The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians.These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

If you'd like to publish any interesting material about the history of East Anglia on the site, then please send an email to the Resident Historians at and we'll add it.

Family Historians have their own area on the site, so look there if your main interest is in tracing your family history.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Cunning Renardine

From a local paper before 1910 comes the following story

Several years ago at an old-fashioned farmhouse called Tittle Hall,in Boxted,a small village,lying between Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk,there lived a farmer and his wife who thought much of their cows and dairy,but they were rather pestered with foxes,as the squire of Boxted-hall,an ancient mansion,being lord of the manor,did not allow them to be molested,as they were reserved for sporting,and so it happened that the farmer's wife on going into her dairy one morning, was horrified to see a fox of enormous size lying dead(as she supposed) on the floor. The dairies at that time were large and airy,with lattice windows,and floors paved with clinker bricks,which were scrubbed down with a birch broom and much water. A brick was left out of the wall level with the floor for a sink hole,where all the refuse was washed out.

The fox on his nightly prowls round the house appears to have scented the cream through the windows or sink hole,and as he would like to taste it squeezed himself through the hole into the dairy,and made his way to the cream pot,and it was so very nice he ate it all up,he swelled himself up to such a size that he could not by no means get back through the hole again,and hearing footsteps coming he laid down and feigned to be dead. The lady suspecting what he had been doing looked into her cream pot,and finding it all gone,she was so exasperated that she took him up in a rage thinking he was dead and with an ugly word threw him out into the back yard,but to her great consternation and dismay as soon as Reynard found he was at large and once more free to use his legs he bounded off at full speed,leaving the lady to grieve over the escape of the audacious and crafty thief.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


We were recently having some fun trying to get an American guest to pronounce Lavenham the local way. Tourists often ask the way to "LayeVenn Haym" and it takes a while to understand that they mean Lav'n'm. We get great mirth from hearing furrners calling 'Av'r'il (Haverhill) "Hayverr Hill".

Actually, the correct enunciation of placenames goes much further. Chelmsford is pronounced "Chensf'd", Braintree is "Braantry". (Branketre in Edward IInd's day, later Brarntry in 1720). Somewhat perplexingly, the ancient pronounciation of Sawbridgeworth is 'Sapsworth' or even Saps'th. Coggeshall is often referred to as 'Coxall'. Pentlow was pronounced "Pantle"; and its famous pub was the "Pink'us".

If there can be a general rule, we enunciate the first syllable of the place-name, and then let the rest of the word decay into a few consonants. 'Foxuth', or 'Foxud' (Foxearth, spelt 'Foxheard' on some old maps), 'Glessfd' (Glemsford) and so on. However, in many cases, it is difficult to explain the differences between written and spoken forms. Why, for example does one refer to the River Roding as 'Roothing'?

It is a mistake to put the mismatch between spoken form and the written down to local illiteracy. Old maps and documents often spell the names rather closer to the vernacular pronounciations. It is the modern spellings that seem to have drifted. For example, the Stour, which should be pronounced 'Stur', used to be written 'Sture' or 'Stur' c995. Haverhill is spelt much better as Haveril in Bowen's 1720 map of essex.

Sometimes, perfectly sensible names have been corrupted through errors in transcription. Rodbridge is simply 'Rode Bridge' (Road Bridge) on the early maps, and so the local pronounciation is actually more correct.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The origin of the Great Halls

There are a remarkable number of great houses nearby. Kentwell Hall and Melford Hall amongst the survivors, and Acton Hall, once the size of a kings' palace now gone, along with Liston Hall.

Possibly the most enigmatic of these great halls is Melford Hall. Its origins are clearly monastic, but it is only recently that buildings archaeologists have taken it seriously, and they are now realising that the building is more ancient than we'd previously supposed.

Even Barry Wall's ingenious theory of attributing the major part of the building to the last abbot of Bury Abbey, Abbot Reeve, seems less cerain now, though he correctly suggested that there were remains of the 1450-1480 work in the building. What he took to be the grand west-facing monastic gatehouse now seems to be a later addition, replacing the original, and designed more for its visual effect as a grand garden backdrop. The north wing now seems likely to have originally been partly a chapel and partly collegiate cells. The south wing seems to have originated as a detached kitchen. The development of the hall seems to have been far more complex than previously thought, and to have taken place over an extended period.

Kentwell, too, had a rather more complex and protracted development as a house, and it is strange that the two houses evolved from such different origins to eventually look so similar, conforming to the classic Elizabethen E shape. Chilton Hall, as far as we can work out, once looked surprisingly similar to the two great Melford houses; all we can see now is one of the two side-wings. There is a great deal of work still to do, to understand these brick-built masterpieces. Our knowledge lags a long way behind timber-framed houses, which can now be dated accurately by their joints and by Dendrochronology. The study of the early history of the brick-built great houses of the area may yet bring some fresh surprises

Monday, December 27, 2004

The East-Anglian dialect

One of the most rapid changes that has happened in the past fifty years around here is the loss of the East Anglian accent. Nowadays we think of the Essex Accent as being the flat estuary accent from East London, rather than the completely different dialect of East Anglia. Of course, living in Witham, I could recognise the slightly different intonation of the Suffolk accent and the rather strange, but related Norfolk accent, but the change in the dialect was gradual as one moved east and north. There really was one East Anglian dialect

Suddenly, the dialect seems to have almost vanished, to be replaced by a strange hybrid of the cockney and midland.

We know the old dialect was ancient, due to the occurrence of archaic words seen only in Shakespearian english or even the Danish. We can also thank the labours of the victorians for capturing it phonetically, so we can study the small amount of drift in the following hundred years. There have been three dictionaries produced to record the unique words found in the East Anglian dialect. My favourite is 'A Contribution to an Essex Dialect Dictionary' by Edward Gepp, the rector of High Easter, published in 1920. It is very accurate, and it is not often that it misses out on a word in wide usage.
We publish on the website a list of words collected from 'Old Bors' in Glemsford and Long Melford, which is remarkably popular.David Woodward's book 'Larn yarself Silly Suffolk' is still available and provides a thoughtful and careful account of the dialect. Charlie Haylock has just produced a new book, called 'Sloightly on th' Huh!. Charlie lives in Cornard and, like our own Fred Pawsey, given talks on the old 'Suffolk' dialect. His book is, of course, excellent, and a very accurate record, given in a lighthearted way, which only occasionally strays into the facetious.

Sadly, I don't see the Suffolk accent lasting much longer. One can take comfort in the fact that the last generation to speak the accent properly have been recorded for posterity, but it is scant comfort.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Great Colchester Earthquake

On hearing the horrifying details of the Sumatra Earthquake, one is comforted only by the thought that it cannot happen here. True, but we have had our own earthquake, known as the Great Colchester Earthquake

On the 22nd April 1884, at 9.18, we suffered an earthquake of 6.9 on the Richter scale. Its epicentre was just to the south east of Colchester near Wivenhow. Shock waves travelled across England, Belgium and France. It destroyed 1,200 buildings, including the entire villages of Wivenhoe and Abberton. The churches of Breton, Marney, Wivenhoe, Peldon and De La Haye were damaged and Langenhoe church was virtually destroyed.

The Essex County Standard reported

Everything was peaceful and quiet early in the morning, no fresh atmospherical change from the last few days with the exception of a slight elevation of temperature, being experienced to indicate in any way the approach of a visitation of this nature, from which England happily has been very free, and has had little or no cause to anticipate anything of the kind either in years gone by or at this more immediate period.
The awful event came without the slightest warning and lasted from five to ten seconds but in that short period of time, an amount of damage was done to property which it will take weeks to set right, and in some cases destruction is irreparable.
From one end of the town to the other the ground was convulsed, and if a spectator could have taken a bird's eye view of the Borough, the effect would have been much the same as a sea wave, the ground upheaving and lowering by means of that gigantic power pent up beneath the earth's crust. The general impression appears to be that the ground and the houses with it was lifted up, shaken two or three times in a manner that made the stoutest heart quake, and the bravest to cow with fear, and then subside, disappearing with a kind of final shake or jerk, and then it was all over."

Giant waves in the sea destryed many light craft, they rolled 'like floating corks' and the quay at Wivenhoe was 'on the move as if going right down'.

Many old buildings bear cracks due to the earthquake. Around here, Melford Hall suffered, and repairs had to be made to several churches

The worst affected from the earthquake was Langenhoe where

..."The scene in this parish of 230 souls is spoken of by eye witnesses as most painful in the extreme - women and children rushed out of their houses in the greatest terror, many of them shrieking in the roads, whole men were also startled. How many of the poor people whose houses have thus been wrecked, are to find shelter for themselves and their families for some little time, is more than we can say."

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Bithiserea, Melchior and Gathaspa

My incipient thespian career was curt short at the age of five by the trauma of falling over my cloak whilst playing one of the three kings of 'Orien Tar' in a nativity play. Frankincense flew everywhere and I was subsequently demoted to be the front-end of the Ass. 

The Magi are mentioned only in one gospel, and then only as wise men from the east. We are not told how many, their names or their origin. We know only that they'd seen his star in the East and had come to worship him. They presented gold, incense and myrrh. The Gospel recounts that they did not return to Herod the way they had come.

The Epiphany, the feast dedicated to the the appearance of the Lord to the Magi, was the most popular, and most ancient, part of the celebration of Christmas in East Anglia, featuring strongly in the mediaeval church. The rich iconography of the Magi  blazed in the in the pre-reformation local churches, particularly in the 14th century. The Feast of the Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian holidays, dating back to the Oriental church of the second century.  It was always celebrated on January 6th, and outstripped even Christmas day as a celebration. It had a particular resonance for the western Europeans as they saw it as symbolic of the heathens acknowledging the supremacy of Christ. It grew in popularity from 1164, when Reinald of Dassel, archbishop of Cologne, brought the relics of the magi from Milan to Cologne.

The Syrian tradition asserts that there were twelve Magi, but this was changed by the fifth century to three, probably because three gifts were mentioned in the gospel. They were even given names, Bithiserea, Melchior and Gathaspa. By the eighth century, this had become Balthasar, Melchior, and Casper. The church even engineered a happy ending, where St Thomas the Apostle wandered far to India and came across the elderly Magi, converting them and appointing them Bishops.

The number three began to take on a mystical significance. The three periods of humanity, the three parts of the known world (Europe, Asia and Africa), and the three gifts, Gold from Melchior in recognition of his kingdom, Myrrh from Balthasar to endorse his humanity, and Incense from Caspar in recognition of his deity.

I attended a candle-lit carol service in Long Melford Church this Christmas. I fear that I found it a gloomy occasion with its jocular secular interludes, and my mind wandered toward the glorious celebration that would have accompanied the Epiphany in that same church in the fourteenth century. The mediaeval celebration was an educational exercise undertaken by almost the entire parish with gusto and energy, and the layers of meaning of the myth were stripped and examined in song, plays and ceremony, using visual aids to reinforce the message. The Visit of the Kings, and the Adoration, was one of the Mystery Plays performed over Christmas, performed often by a Guild. The primary School Nativity is a poor and shrivelled memory of these complex and poetic dramas enacted in Church. I wonder if they ever slipped and dropped the Frankinsense.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Peddars Way and the Via Devana

Our intrepid airman, Mark Mathieson, has come up with a very fine
view of Long Melford, taken along the alignment of the Roman road, Peddars Way, as it meets the Via Devana, that went between Colchester and Cambridge, at a crossing point  possibly on Melford Green.

Long Melford from the air

Melford is actually to the north of the Roman crossing-point of the Stour. We won't know for sure where that crossing point was. I've always favoured Rodbridge as, before the mills were built, it was relatively shallow and stony just here. Signes of Roman and Saxon habitation were found at the gravel pit there. It would also place East Anglia's major roman road within Borley, which would be nice. We now know that Sudbury was occupied from Neolithic times, and was an important high-status settlement in Belgic times so it would seem possible that a spur road deviated there and so crossed at Ballingdon, as it did from the Dark ages onward.

You'll notice how wiggly the road is as it goes through Melford. Where the road actually went is still conjectural, though traces have been found to the east of Hall street and the NW corner of Chapel Field.  It is rare indeed to find a roman road in East Anglia, simply because there were few stones to build them with, and the few were soon robbed to be re-used for house-building. A well-excavated roman road at Flag Fen shows a surface more akin to 'hogging', a naturally-occurring mix of clay, sand and stone which gives a hard dry surface. The wearing surface was a very hard lime, almost akin to concrete. The foundation was made of pebbles. Towns built on roman roads tend to wiggle because, in Saxon times, the hard, well-draining surfaces were too much of a temptation for house-builders of the times who saw no harm in encroaching into a road that was much too wide for current purposes in order to take advantage of an excellent foundation. The road retained its general orientation but each encroachment caused a deviation as Saxon property rights became enshrined in law.

It has been stated that Melford was not occupied before Belgic times. As the Stour Valley was well-occupied from Neolithic times onwards, this seems highly unlikely. The few excavations that have taken place are not on the likely location of the earlier settlements, and there has been too much disturbance in the valley itself to enable bronze age burial sites to show up.

Undeniably, Long Melford was a town of some importance in Roman times, and surrounded by a number of farms and villas that owed their origins to the colonia at Colchester, the land being issued to retired soldiers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Boggis, Cadge, Squirrell, Muzzel and Bareham

Despite all the emigration from East Anglia, and the current vast surge of immigration, there are still signs that the old suffolk families are around and thriving.

My curiosity was triggered by the family historians that regularly contact us looking for records or memories of their ancestors. The old newspapers are awash with mentions of the residents, but we don't record them on the site unless they do something memorable, such as commit murder, play cricket, have melancholy accidents, or get transported. We'd need an army od dedicated historians to transcribe such details of WI meetings, weddings, funerals, parties, hunts, and social gatherings that form the bread in the news sandwitch in local papers

Often, when we get an enquiry, I recognise a 'Good East-Anglian' name. Theobald, Death, Barrell, Bareham, Humm. I recently did some research of my own on the 'clusters' of particular surnames around the area. The Bareham families of Clare are Memorable, as is the Muzzell and Levett surname in Lavenham. The Squirrell family dominate in Waldingfield, Acton Long Melford and Groton. In some parishes, past immigration have formed family 'pockets' with scottish, italian or flemish names.

Here is a quick analysis of some of the more significant clustering of surnames in the area.

117 28.82% Squirrell Little Waldingfield
3914.77% SquirrellGroton
1173.92%SquirrellLong Melford
282.26%SmithGreat Waldingfield
511.71%SmithLong Melford
1011.68%SmithGreat Cornard
270.91%BrownLong Melford
490.82%BrownGreat Cornard
450.75%KingGreat Cornard
210.70%BoggisLong Melford
210.70%WebbLong Melford
190.64%CadgeLong Melford
190.64%FrostLong Melford
190.64%JacksonLong Melford
190.64%KingLong Melford
360.60%FyzoolGreat Cornard
340.57%WrightGreat Cornard
300.50%BarehamGreat Cornard
280.47%PalmerGreat Cornard
280.47%WoodGreat Cornard
260.43%WilliamsGreat Cornard
250.42%FisherGreat Cornard
250.42%MillsGreat Cornard
240.40%BirdGreat Cornard

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

'Sepultus in via'

Sometimes, the Resident Historian (GH) finds a story in the old newspapers that is so strange or alarming that it drives one to the reference books to make sense of it. Yesterday, he typed up the following story from the Ipswich Journal

July 31st 1779.

>William Snell and John Carter for sodomical practices to stand on the pillory at Bury.

On Wednesday William Snell and John Carter stood on the pillory at Bury previous to which Snell took several doses of arsenic which he said he had kept for several years, it had no effect on him till he was being carried back to the gaol when it began to operate and he expired about 7 in the evening. The coroner’s verdict was self murder in consequence of which he was to be buried in the King’s highway and a stake driven through his body, Snell was severely pelted by the populace but Carter came through unhurt nothing being thrown at him the fury of the people having subsided.

This story brought me up with a jolt. My great great great grandparents were in their prime in 1779. Yet we are here staring at an aspect of Britain almost too foreign to be recognisable. The pelting of sodomites in the pillory by a furious mob, the disposal of the dead suicide by driving a stake though his heart. A stake through the heart? Burial at the crossroads? It brings to mind the other instance of 'Sepultus in via' that we found, in the nearby parish of Ballingdon.

October 2nd 1783

There was an inquisition taken at Ballingdon in Essex near Sudbury on the body of Mr Harwood, a millwright of the place who on the day before poisoned himself by taking two ounces of arsenic, he remained in agony for five hours then died. The jury brought forward a verdict of self murder. On Sunday morning he was buried in the crossway with a stake driven through his body near the pound on Ballingdon Hill, agreeable to the sentence which the law thought proper to denounce on those who are guilty of this enormous crime.

The historical record is strangely silent on the subject of the burial of suicides. They were not permitted to rest on consecrated ground. Normally, coroners were merciful and either added the rider that it was temporary insanity, or invented a bizzarre accident to explain the death

Burial at the crossroads evidently enabled the Devil to escape easily, and the stake through the heart prevented the restless soul from haunting the living.

A verdict of suicide whilst insane, meant that the relatives could at least bury the body next to consecrated ground. Last year, two mediaeval burials were discovered outside the churchyard of Borley under a later barn. At first the two youthful male corpses were thought to have been interred in an extension of the churchyard, or that the barn had intruded over the original boundary of the churchyard; However, the pair, one of which had rather curious feminine characteristics in the bones, turned out to be an isolated burial. Suicides? possibly.

William Harrison, in his 'A Description of England' 1577, mentions the practice of 'Sepultus in Via' except that he says it was 'in a field'. This may account for the occasional discovery of human remains in fields.

"Such as kill themselves are buried in the field with a stake driven through their bodies."

Monday, December 20, 2004

Two stout horses and a bull

One of our favourite recent publications was the one on Oxen. Our resident historian (GH) is a retired farm worker, and loves this sort of historical venture. (He is also a keen cricketer, hence the number of cricketing news items)

It all came about when GH was reading his Farmers Weekly, and came across the article on Oxen by Micheal Williams. A letter to the magazine soon resulted in permission to republish, but we wanted to go one better

When I read the article, something jogged my memory and I felt I ought to have a look in my old copy of 'The Gentleman Farmer'. There was a long chapter extolling the virtues of Oxen. GH went hope happily clutching it and transcribed it for the website. A paragraph caught his eye

In the road from Leeds to Wetherby, I saw a loaded cart drawn by two stout horses and a bull, all in a line, the bull in the middle. That draught was not slower than those before or after in the same road, and surely the bull would not have been added had it retarded the horses

It would be a cold fish indeed whose imagination was not moved by such a description. Tom showed the paragraph to our President, Ashley Cooper, who showed his credentials by being so deeply moved as to commission an illustration especially for the website by the famous historical illustrator Ben Perkins.

In the road from Leeds to
Wetherby, I saw a loaded cart drawn by two stout horses and a bull, all
in a line, the bull in the middle. That draught was not slower than those
before or after in the same road, and surely the bull would not have been
added had it retarded the horses.

Ben Perkins is probably best known for his wonderful illustrations of Ashley Coopers books. He has excelled himself with this illustration, which must have been a very tricky one to get right. What a wonderful Christmas Present for the Website, and to all our regular visitors

it has been added to the publication for which it was intended, 'No Beasts for draught but Oxen'

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Unlucky Liston Hall

In the evening of November 19th 1870, fire broke out at Liston Hall. After the fire, the house was rebuilt. Twelve years later, a second fire almost destroyed it again. The house survived until its eventual demolition after the Second World War.

An undated photo
of Liston Hall
We do not seem to have much in the way of pictures of the way the Hall looked, though there is a very splendid engraving at the records office. However, the three pictures we have suggest that the side-wings remained pretty well intact whereas the main house suffered two rebuilds. We can explain the first rebuild as being necessary due to the well-known fire but the second one is more of a buzzle as the second fire did not damage the building itself

Liston Hall
just before demolition
The house which was demolished in the 1950s was rather poor architecturally whereas the old photograph showed a rather smaller but quite different centre to the house.

The original appearance
of Liston Hall
The house was rented out to Lt Col Palmer for most of the nineteenth century and he suffered greatly from the two fires. The contemporary newspaper account was quite graphic in its detail of the first fire. A curiosity of the two reports is that, in both cases, the fire brigade were unable to asssist much due to the inadequacy of their equipment. By the time of the second fire, the redoubtable Colonel Palmer, who lived there, had sensibly obtained his own private fire engine and so the second blaze did not spread to the main building.

November 19th1870

On Tuesday evening at about a quarter to eight,an alarming and destructive fire broke out at Liston Hall, the residence of Lieut.Colonel Palmer,of the Scots Fusiliers Guards,about a mile distant from Melford-street.

The residence which was of red brick,stood in the centre of a small park,and was very substantially built,it contained 21 rooms. Attached were a newly built ball-room, a conservatory and greenhouses,stabling,gardeners and gamekeepers residences etc,ornamental gardens and pleasure grounds.
For a day or two previous smoke had been noticed about the house,but not to the extent that would create alarm,being attributed to a smoky chimney. It appears that the butler, Booth, a old and valued servant, being ill, a fire had been lit in his room.
At a few minutes before eight o'clock,his daughter who had been attending him,smelt fire in one of the attics and opened a trap door leading to the roof when she saw the flames burning fiercely. She rushed downstairs,and gave the alarm.
Booth had also simultaneously discovered the fire,and jumped out of bed. He was at once wrapped in a blanket and conveyed to a cottage near.
Col.Palmer had likewise noticed the smell of fire. No sooner however had the alarm been given than the entire roof seemed to burst into a mass of flames,which ascended to a great height.
The domestics and people who had flocked to the scene hastened to remove the furniture etc, but it was found to be impossible owing to the smoke to save any of the valuable furniture, pictures etc, from the library. On three sides of the mansion the furniture saved was piled and covered with rick cloths to protect it from sparks. The valuable plate,which was kept in the butler's room on the third storey,was in six chests but only two chests were saved. The servants lost all their clothing together with £40 which one servant had in a her box, Miss Palmer's wardrobe was also burnt.
The fire engine from Melford was the first to arrive but the water had to be procured from a pond at some distance and a second engine was required to force the water to feed the one playing on the building, the large engine from Sudbury also arrived but was delayed a short time owing to not having a sufficient length of hose ready, their hose having burst. At one time it was feared that the fire would spread to the laundry and the gardener's house, which were connected with the mansion by covered passages but the great solidity of the walls protected them. The energies of the firemen were therefore directed to prevent the flames from spreading from the main building. The massive oak beams and joists were a long time burning through,and at times sent up millions of sparks.
The fire also reached a large stock of coals in the cellars which burnt with great intensity. The wine in the wine cellar is supposed to be uninjured. Miss Palmer took shelter at the Rectory, Foxearth. There is very little doubt that the origin of the fire arose from the flue in the butler's room, a fire being first lit there on Sunday. It was not extinguished till between eight and nine o'clock on Wednesday morning. The flames could be seen for many miles, and persons came from a great distance to the fire.
The mansion and estate are the property of Richard Lambert,Esq.,who resides in Ireland. The Hall was insured for £1600 in the Suffolk Alliance Office,the furniture etc,was insured in the Westminster Office for £4000. Col.Palmer (who is the son of Sir Ralph Palmer and nephew of Sir Roundell Palmer,Q.C. M.P.)had taken Liston Hall on a long lease,and had expended a considerable sum in decoration and improvements.

November 14th1882

Late on Saturday night a fire broke out on the premises of Liston Hall the seat of Col.Palmer, resulting in the destruction of the extensive coach houses and stabling. It appears that shortly after before midnight, the housekeeper was awakened by some unusual noises and a sound of glass cracking and on looking from her window observed smoke and flames issuing from the direction of the buildings referred to, immediately the entire household was aroused and the alarm given, assistance was speedily at hand.
Happily the valuable horses were rescued from their perilous position, the carriages were likewise rescued and only suffered slight damage but the harness was destroyed.
The Melford Fire Brigade were in attendance but could not afford much aid as the hoses were insufficient. Good service was rendered by a small engine kept on the premises.
The fire is believed to have originated fom a chimney flue. Col.Palmer wa insured in the Suffolk Alliance Office but not to the full amount of the loss which is estimated at £ 600.
Many hundreds of people visited the scene on Sunday, we understand it is exactly 12 years since the mansion and contents were destroyed in a similar manner

The Foxearth Skeleton

As mysteries go, the Foxearth Skeleton does not rank very high, I'm afraid. It is amusing to read about only as an illustration of how much more we can glean from the discovery of ancient human remains nowadays.

The Foxearth Skeleton was found on the edge of the Stour Valley between Liston and Foxearth, at Weston, during gravel workings in around 1905

The skull was submitted the skull to Prof. Charles Stewart, F.R.S., of the College of Surgeons, who pronounced it to be a fine specimen, probably very old. Later, he wrote expressing the opinion that it was "Ancient British". This must rank high in anyone's list of fatuous opinions.

Later on, most of the rest of the skeleton was found and excavated. Unfortunately there was no dating evidence. However, the excavator was sensible enough to present 'the skeleton to the Essex Museum of Natural History, so that it may be preserved for future study by some competent craniologist', an unsubtle dig at the competence of Prof. Charles Stewart, F.R.S. Somewhere in a museum probably lies a box that just might tell us the date of this burial, and thereby shed a bit more light on our local history.


Addendum 04/11/2020

there is now a plan for a Solar Farm on a large acreage near the site. The applicants for permission commissioned a historical and archaeological survey that runs to 100 pages pulled from the standard surveys. There is no mention of the skeleton or its immense significance for any archaeological appraisal of the site. The people who did the survey could have asked the local history society but didn't: They could have done an internet search. We'd have been happy to help and had already published this blogpost in 2004.

  I've field-walked most of these fields. There are plenty of signs of habitation on these north-facing valley slopes, some dating beck to the bronze-age.  Although solar panels would not seem as harmful to archaeology as housing, in fact, the panels have to be very firmly placed in the ground, up to seven foot deep so as to withstand the strong gales that we experience.

I enclose a PDF of  the original paper that describes the find, from the Essex Naturalist (XV (1908), pp.164-7).
Notes on a Human Skeleton, Found At Foxearth, Essex. By John M. Wood, M.I.C.E. Read November 30th, 1907.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The House of Secrets

I was most interested in the following article that I spotted in an old copy of the Essex Countryside magazine, March 1967, called The House of Secrets. It told the curious story of Great Yeldham Old Rectory. I have to admit I'd never heard the story of it being haunted in Edwardian times

It is a real old genuine place, and must have looked glorious in its victorian heyday, with its air of graceful decay

Although Borley Rectory, our own local legend, is more famous, it is curious how many tales are similar. The Haunting was described as being Edwardian; presumably occuring well before the First War

the parallels with Borley Rectory are uncanny. Human bones of a female human around three hundred years old, were found under the floor, there was a private prayer room, just like Borley. There was a well under the house, and a belfry above the kitchen in both houses. Victorian Gothic decoration abounded in both houses, and a wealth of inscription on the walls, antique in the case of Yeldham.There was a legend of a secret passage in the cellars going to the church in both houses

The Old Rectory at Great Yeldham,
photographed in 1899

The Edwardian haunting of Yeldham Rectory occurred at the same time as the supposed haunting at Borley. Lights went on and off without human aid just like Borley. The rector's dog refused to enter a particular room, just as later happened at Borley, and a bachelor clergyman declined to live in the rectory because of the noises he heard at night, (yes, Borley too). The front door bell, which was of the old-fashioned pull-down variety, occasionally rang without visible cause.

The Local Historian learns to smell a rat very quickly. The Borley legends all came from two sources, Harry and Ethel Bull. They visited Great Yeldham regularly and were friendly with the rector in Edwardian times. They would have certainly been told these wonderful romantic tales about this most glorious of rectories. Returning to their own dreary modern brick rectory must have been rather demoralising and it would be hardly surprising if they felt the urge to inject a bit of historical fantasy and romance into their home.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Valley of the Dead.

I wince whenever I see those huge diesel tractors plough the Stour meadowlands. Until recently, nobody would have thought of ploughing them; for a start they were valuable for their hay-crop, or osier beds, but they are also subject to flooding, and rather damp in the winter. I wince because the valleys have always been intensively occupied by humanity, and we are inevitably destroying the evidence that could tell the detailed story of that occupation. As the science of archaeology develops, we can do more with less, and will one day wring the secrets from those enigmatic crop marks that are scattered throughout the valley.

The Cavendish Crop-marks.
1996 D Strachan

 The Stour owes its present shape to the last ice-age; Since then, it has been a site of prime importance to mankind. We can see this in the crop marks, in the finds, the roads and the parish boundaries. The silty gravel soil was perfect for crops. It could be ploughed with the wooden plough, and drained well. The hay-crop was vital for over-wintering livestock. The old parish boundaries are arranged so that each parish had a section of the valley to the river bank. It would seem that the Stour not only fed the living, but provided the resting place for the dead.

The Stour was pocked with barrows, and other mysterious bronze-age constructions.  At Cavendish, despite the gravel-workings, we can still see
a profusion of them, thought to include a long mortuary enclosure and several ring-ditches,including two dual concentric examples. Possibly the most impressive man-made tumulus now has Pentlow Church built on it, but there are several others, now reduced to slight rises in the ground or crop-marks. I suspect that they continued all the way along, and the ones that survive are there through fortune. I have one at the end of my garden, intersected by the later mill stream. The railway destroyed a number of them in the course of its construction.

I cannot help thinking that the meadows between Cavendish and Glemsford once had a special resonance. Despite the intensive gravel working, the cropmarks are spectacular, and the barrows extended both sides of the river. The Tumuli occupied now by Pentlow Church and Pentlow Hall are at one end. It's impossible to say what the place would have looked like at any one time as the construction may have been over an extended period. A lot has happened since, and the sequence of occupation takes some disentangling. It is clear, however that, for a long period, the Stour acted as a memorial valley of  the dead. Cremation would seem to have predominated. Bodies or Grave goods have never been found. With our modern heavy equipment, we can destroy whole sites of occupation within days. The Borley meadows were entirely destroyed, and a great deal went at Glemsford. In the last war, there was a huge amount of gravel extraction to make the runways of the bomber airfields. It is miraculous that anything has survived, and it is up to us to ensure that something is preserved for a more enlightened age that can read the secrets of those far-off

For more information on the Cavendish Cropmarks see
The Stour Valley Project, England: a cropmark landscape in three dimensions by Dr David. Strachan. His excellent book, 'Essex from the Air', (ISBN 1 85281 165 X) contains some astonishing cropmarks, including the strange mediaeval moated site on the Meadow at the western end of Pentlow.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Foxearth from the air


An arial picture of Foxearth
taken from the east this year

It was a great pleasure to receive some recent photographs of Foxearth, taken from the air by Mark Mathieson who lives in the parish. We've now added these to the Foxearth picture collection. It is remarkably useful to have these photos on the site, as it makes it much easier to track the changes to the buildings in the village


Foxearth today from the air,
taken from the north, looking
down on the church and rectory

Elsewhere on the site we have the detail from the 1776 Chapman and Andre map of Foxearth and it is fascinating to see how much change in the location of buildings there has been, even though the village has not suffered the explosive growth of others such as Glemsford or Cavendish.


Foxearth as it is today, from the
South East showing Pentlow and
Cavendish in the distance

For me, the photograph showing the Stour Valley in the distance over the patchwork of fields, and the far glimpse of Cavendish is perhaps my favourite one. Sadly, just too late to make into a christmas card! It was this alignment that Ted Babbs announced in his book on Borley Rectory to be a ley line, but in fact there are no close alignments that need explaining. The track between Rodbridge and Cavendish is very ancient, certainly bronze-age, but it has always chosen the winding route that alternates flat and slope to ease the passage of carts, and utilise the occasional seam of gravel. We have a 'celtic' road system frozen in time by the complexity of property rights.

You can click on the pictures to get a more detailed version

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Bunk and Debunk

One of our four 'home' parishes is Borley, and so we have long taken an interest in the
history of the so-called 'Haunting' of Borley Rectory. You will find, on the site, the draft of a book on the history of the affair, called 'The Bones of Borley', which hopefully will come out as a printed book in the spring, published by the society

I had to pop into London to do an interview for a television program on Harry Price, the journalist who wrote the two famous books on Borley Rectory. The interview was conducted in a darkened church in the City of London, presumably to get a spooky atmosphere. Unfortunately, the laughing, and clattering of dishes as some dinner-ladies cleared up a charity lunch in the old vestry dispelled any ghostly silence there may have been, and the thread of the interview was often broken by the klaxon of a passing police-car.

Like all historians faced with someone pretending to take an interest in their specialised subject, I drivelled on at boring length, hypnotised by the task of getting facts correct. Fortunately, nowadays, one can cut an interview so cleverly that one can be made to say or do almost anything the producer wants.

Harry Price was one of those fascinating people who will be remembered for the immense good they did, but will be tainted by their transgressions from the truth. Price was in the vanguard of debunking, and denouncing, the many spiritualist mediums who exploited the fascination in necromancy which followed the dreadful bloodshed of the First World War. He was an expert conjuror and engineer, and was able to show how the mediums did their tricks. As well as this, he was able to collect an immense library of books on magic and the occult which he eventually gave to the nation. This library, now expanded with Eric Dingwall's collection, is a wonderful resource.

If Harry had stopped there, he would now be revered critically. He didn't, unfortunately. He began to believe some of the bunk, and set about manipulating the evidence to bring it in line with his conclusions. His two books on Borley Rectory were master-works on spin-doctoring. He would never tell an untruth, but merely leave out facts. He would, for example, say that his chauffeur told him he'd seen a grisly black hand appear over the top of the kitchen door, without adding that the chap was joking at the time: he would report the effect of a thrown stone on the rest of the party in the darkened rectory without adding that he'd thrown the stone.
The result of this technique was a belief amongst the general public that Borley
Rectory was really haunted. 

Harry Price's shortcomings make him, for me, a rather more sympathetic character. Like Darth
Vader, he had talents that could be used for good or bad. He eventually found
his talents were more profitably used for misleading rather than leading: as one critic said, 'The public preferred bunk to debunk, so that is what he gave them'.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Assassin in Pentlow

I sometimes wonder if I'm getting blase. After the excitement of finding that there was a food-riot at my home in May 1772, at which two people were sentenced to death, comes the news that a new novel by a best-selling author is based on my next-door-neighbours' house.

The latter is notable because it is a book by Ronnie Blythe, who is one of the most respected of local historians in East Anglia. The book is 'The Assassin' and it is a creative attempt to understand why John Felton assassinated George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, in 1628. It is an ingenious use of the novel as a way of doing a forensic analysis of the reasons for a crime

Ronnie Blythe's skill is to understand the times, and to portray the heady mix of spirituality and testosterone that so characterised the age. It is also great fun to read. The story starts at Pentlow Hall, and describes place and the landscape around with a wonderfully economical style . Blythe was, I seem to remember, born in Sudbury and has an encyclopaediac knowledge of the area and its history.

I recently re-read Blythe's classic 'Akenfield'. It has actually improved with age. It was the first of its kind; living histories that use the peoples own voices to portray the intricate quilt of lives in the Suffolk villages.

What marks out Akenfield was his subtle and tactful probing, and his deep understanding of the way that Suffolk people responded to the christian faith

Ronald Blythe was able to gain the confidence of a community to the extent that they were able to trust him to get it right. The interviewer can never be a passive instrument, and every word of Akenfield has somehow been filtered through that poetic eye that brings an apparent 'booming, buzzing confusion' into crystal clarity. Others have tried to reproduce that miracle but it needed Ronnie's particular chemistry to make it happen.

The Assassin, Black Dog Books 2004, ISBN 0-9528839-9-6

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Great Tower of Glemsford

I heard a rumour the other day that a local publisher was about to produce a book about the water towers of East Anglia.

Glemsford Water Tower

We once had our own glorious water tower in Glemsford. This was a great source of village pride, but it was, regrettably, demolished in 1962

We have an account of the tower's construction, and the associated engineering works in October 1905

"The inhabitants of Glemsford are now in measurable reach of a good supply of water. On Thursday and Friday the engine, mains and water tanks underwent a severe test prior to being brought into public use. The pumping station is near Glemsford railway station in a neatly built structure of bricks, in the engine room is a 11 hp oil engine and a 6" x3" three throw ram pump by Campbell Gas Engine Co of Halifax. The bore is 520ft deep and lined with 1/4" steel tubes, the yield is 6000 gallons an hour, the water is pumped to a water tower on Hunt's Hill, the tower is 45ft high and is built with White Gildenburgh bricks relieved by Leicester red is surmounted by a steel tank 15ft deep by 20ft with a capacity of 30000 gallons. The top water level is 30ft higher than the Glemsford church tower. 24 fire hydrants are placed at various parts of the village. The cost of the scheme is £ 3000 to which will be added the cost of the land, engine and the expences of the engineers. The engineer was J.Eayrs of Birmingham, contractors for engine house and tower was E.Tabor of Cambridge, suppliers of water mains, Holywell Iron Company, mains were laid by A.Appleby of Leyton."

Glemsford's water supply was pumped using a splendid single-cylinder pump and flywheel housed in a rather ornamental brick-and-tile building near the Lower Road, into the vast steel tank, which was painted with aluminium paint and shone like a beacon. Underneath the tank, the council had a surveyors office used by Mr Taylor who collected the rents. It was also used as a council chamber. The pump was tended by a villager appointed to the task. Maintenance was a full-time job. When the pump was working, it could be heard all over the village, and blew the occasional smoke-ring as it puffed away.

The tower was a great sight, Glemsford's own Eiffel Tower. It was much admired. Occasionally, however, the water ran rust red. Every few years, the inside of the tank was painted to prevent rust. Afterwards, the water tasted so bad that the villagers went back to their old ways and took water from the brook in Brook Street.
For village youngsters, the dare of climbing up to the roof was irresistable. The view from the top was magnificent. The final ascent was up a ladder fastened to the outside of the tank, and thence onto the roof.

According to my informant, the water tank was demolished in 1962 because the water tank had rusted through, just after the parish council made its final payment to clear its overdraft to pay for the edifice. It now seems rather a shame that the noble structure was not saved, as it had made a rather splendid council chamber.

View from the top of the tower

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Awash with history

What on earth is the use of a local historian? Although some of the chosen areas of study by local historians are so esoteric as to be meaningless to ordinary mortals, this doesn't have to be the case. Finding the right local historian can save you a lot of money, especially if you are about to buy that cute cottage in the Stour Valley. Knowing where floods happen and how often is just one of the cases where being a local historian can provide a useful function. The general public seems to have amnesia over major weather events, and householders whose houses flood are curiously reluctant to pass the information on to prospective purchasers.

I was reminded of this recently when advising a niece on a house-purchase in Ballingdon. Nowadays, we remember the September 1967 flood as being the most severe, when water poured through ground-floor windows. However, there have been plenty of others. The January 1947 flood had a catastrophic effect in many parts of East Anglia. Ballingdon was badly hit because a haystack got stuck under one of the arches of the bridge. The floods of november 1762 destroyed several bridges and damaged Ballingdon bridge. In May 1824, owing to incessant rain lasting two days, the Stour at Ballingdon was so swollen it overflowed to such a degree that the inhabitants had to leave their homes.

in January 19th 1841, the water rose so high opposite All Saints Church and in Cross Street and Ballingdon that foot passengers were subject to a wetting and the roaring of the waters as it passed between the piles of Ballingdon bridge was so great it could be heard at a considerable distance, the 1st floors of several houses in Ballingdon were flooded. There was a huge flood in January 1887 when the rail bridge at Rodbridge over the Stour was nearly swept away. Near All Saints church in Church Street, Sudbury, the water was so high that people could not pass. One can imagine how much of Ballingdon was underwater then! January 1918 again found Ballingdon in trouble.

Of course one can go further back in time to see the same thing happening. On November the 4th 1520, the bridge was swept away, and wasn't rebuilt until the following year. Despite the fact that the rebuilt bridge was an eight-arch stone bridge, it was 'broken' by another flood in 1594.

One can go on and on. The same story can be told of so many of our villages, especially Melford, Clare and Cavendish. A quick trawl through the Newspaper archive on this site shows how often floods happen. the poet Michael Drayton wrote of the Stour at Sudbury in Queen Elizabeth Ist's time

"For Stour a dantie flood that duly doth divide
fair Suffolk from this shire, upon her other side.
By Clare first coming in, to Sudbury doth show
the even course she keeps, when far she does not flow"

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Flax Ladies

Glemsford Flax Factory Ladies
c. 1916

I'm fascinated by the group photo of the Glemsford Flax Factory staff. (the full detailed photograph is on the site). These ladies, with their striking features, gaze at the camera with a sullen dignity; bringing to mind Alexander Solzhenitsyn's wonderful phrase..

"The ferocious desire to appear happy at all times humiliates and undermines humanity. ...the inertia of accumulated suffering had freed us of that joyful air. In the face of the camera, our faces remain the way they are in real life -downcast."

The photograph was, we think, taken during the first world war, when Flax production was subsidised by the government. As always with group photographs, I ache to discover who they all were. We've identified a few; Miss Grimwood, Vin Prentice, M Shinn, R Shinn in the back row, and Mrs Clarke, Mrs Sparham and Mary Rampling in the front row.

The photograph hung in the doctor's surgery for a while, though I can think of cheerier scenes to choose.

The whole subject of the Flax industry is fascinating. It sustained Glemsford through a period of industrial and agricultural decline; there are still people around who worked in the Flax factories and have fascinating memories. It is the perfect subject of study for a local historian.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hunting Mammals with Dogs

In the run-up to the ban on hunting, there has been a lot of uninformed waffle by journalists that fox-hunting was an invention of effete Georgian landowners. This is, of course, nonsense The earliest books printed concerned themselves with the two chief subjects of Religion and Sport. By Sport, we do not mean football, but hunting with dogs. The great classic was 'The Master of Game', originally written in the 14th century

"The hunting for the fox is fair for the good cry of the hounds that follow him so nigh and with so good a will. Always they scent of him, for he flies through the thick wood and also he stinketh evermore. And he will scarcely leave a covert when he is therein, he taketh not to the open country, for he trusteth not in his running neither in his defence, for he is too feeble, and if he does, it is because he is forced to by the strength of men and hounds. And he will always hold to covert and if he can only find a briar to cover himself with, he will cover himself with that. When he sees that he cannot last, then he goeth to earth the nearest he can find which he knoweth well; and then men may dig him out and take him, if it is easy digging, but not among the rocks. . . ."

"A little greyhound is very hardy if he takes a fox by himself, for men have seen great greyhounds which might well take a hart and a wild boar and a wolf and would let the fox go."

George Turberville wrote the classic English text at the time of Shakespeare, in a book called 'The Noble Art of Venerie'. The strange terms employed in the practice of the various types of hunting sports are another indication of their continuous and ancient tradition. The keeping of a pack of foxhounds is first attributed to Lord Arundel at the end of the seventeenth century but it would seem that the evolution of fox-hunting into its modern form was a gradual process.

One blushes to admit that, in the Stour Valley, it was Otter Hunting that was most popular, though rabbits and hares provided great sport. Otter Hunting was an egalitarian sport. Around here, anyone could participate, though it was always better to get the correct gear, latterly purchased from 'Peddars' in Clare. The pack was kept in Glemsford. Nobody can remember the last time an otter was caught: It didn't seem to matter. There was lots of splashing around in the river, wonderful companionship, and good walking over the meadows. They might as well have been hunting boojums for the carnage would have been the same. It transformed itself into a Mink hunt and instantly became an eco-friendly service to the community (When mink move into a section of river, all other wildlife have to leave). It is still practiced, though due to become illegal in February, a collateral casualty to the banning of fox-hunting.

We have contacted the local hunt, and are hoping to feature a publication giving the history of this fascinating sport, as it was such a characteristic local event.

In collecting old photographs of working men, we are struck by the number of times they chose to be portrayed with their working dogs. They stare at the camera with pride. They would surely sigh in disbelief that any government would seek popularity by finally banning the sport that provided the chief diversion of generations of rural labourers. The whole debate has been so startlingly ill-informed that it would be nice to collect together the history of hunting with dogs in the region. It is part of our shared history. Before any outraged reader spits out the standard rhetorical question "How would you like to be torn apart by a pack of foxhounds", I'd say that I wouldn't worry as, like the fox, I'd be dead by then. I'd willingly suffer the fate just as long as the armchair-moralists all suffer the same fate that my beloved hens suffered at the hands of Mr Fox, a death both cruel and painful by any standards.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A peep behind the curtains

I'm often asked what the most popular parts of the F&DLHS website are. It varies enormously. In general, the census summaries, newspapers and photographs all get a great deal of usage, though a lot of our publications regularly feature in the 'top 40'. The Newspaper archive is our core asset.

Our visitors are generally doing family history, but more and more local people are investigating the history of their location now that the word is spreading. We are very pleased that local historians are using us too. We have a few visitors whose only interest is in the Borley Rectory Affair, but why not: it is part of our history. Most of our visits come from the UK and USA, with the commonwealth countries coming a poor second.

We always get a lot of interest in Vernon Clarke's two wonderful 'Historical' walking guides of the Stour, Chelmer and Blackwater valleys. The publication on Emigration has obviously struck a chord with ex-pats and is getting a lot of use at the moment, along with the article on World-War 2 aircraft crashes. The article with all the press-cuttings about threshing machines is always popular during term-time, so seems to have got onto the syllabus somewhere. The articles on Cavendish and Glemsford are always popular. The oddest usage is for the article on bull-baiting, which seems to be a accident of people searching for something far more sinister on the internet.

It is not generally known that the webmasters can see the Google search-phrases that are resulting in visits to the site. This makes fascinating reading and occasionally gets us scratching our heads in wonderment.

Another curiosity is in tracking usage from particular sources. Recently the Met Office sucked practically every file off the site, as did Braintree District Council. I suspect a keen family historian in his lunch hour, munching sandwiches at his terminal and enjoying the bandwidth. I'd like to think that the Met Office had woken up to the amazing accounts of extreme weather in the local newspapers in the nineteenth century that, had they occurred today, would have us all shaking our heads and muttering about global warming.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Treadmill Pricewatch

We seem to have appeared recently in a price comparison of exercise treadmills for keep-fitters.

There is one of several sites that claim they can scour the internet to bring you the best price for various shopping items.

It spotted the following 1823 article in the newspaper archive about the addition of a treadmill to the Halstead prison. (a treadmill was a demeaning method of powering machinery by treading on the outside of an oversized wheel to which were affixed steps). It obviously didn't notice the date

January 22nd 1823

An improved treadmill is to be erected in Halstead Bridewell, the mill to be erected uses revolutions at 120 times an hour, the improved mill enable the Governor to regulate the velocity to his own desired to make labour easy or oppressive.
The number of prisoners in Bury gaol is 170, no less than 50 are there for game law offences.

The article duly appeared in the price comparison for Exercise Treadmills!

Someone else did a search for the best price for a 'Kettle Corn Machine' (I think it is a way of making popcorn) which came up with

1855-1892 Suffolk & Essex Free Press FDLHS newspaper archive
... the fireplace and drank some water from the kettle, which was standing on the hob, the mother at ... following morning to carry corn to the machine, they finished one stack ...

No sale!

Monday, December 06, 2004

The Pentlow Perambulations

I recently had a fascinating hour or two at the Essex Records office looking at a sketchmap of the Pentlow parish boundaries surveyed by the Rector, Rev John Bull in 1802, with memoranda of perambulations in 1802-12, the latter by Henry Bull.
The sketchmap started at Pentlow Mill, and meandered along the boundaries of the parish, noting the name of every field, landmark and feature. It listed the names of the local dignitaries who joined in the walk, and mentioned those little boundary disputes that happen between neighbours, namely Belchamp St Pauls. It is certainly a charming document, and it needs to be carefully correlated with the later, and more accurate, tithe map, and both maps corrected to the OS map.
Reading the document was like time-travel. It was delightful to notice that there was a hop-field near the mill, obviously to support the commercial brewing taking place there at the time. One could see the extraordinay road at Paddock Mill that actually ran along the river-bed. All quite fascinating.
The charming lady at the Records Office invited me to part with a considerable sum of money to have the item scanned. I told her that I was mildly surprised that an item which was actually our Parish property should be subject to a charge that seemed well over the actual cost of doing the work. She told me that, if the document was really the property of the parish, we could ask for it back temporarily for study. Bless her: This might be the answer.
Generally speaking The various County Records Offices too quickly slip into the false notion that they are owners rather than custodians of these documents, and can forget that they are providing a service. Some damned accountant gets his nose in and points out a way of raising money, and the wider perspective gets lost.
Generally, the photocopiers at Records Offices date from the Bronze Age and produce nasty smeary copies which they then charge ridiculous sums to impoverished Local Historians for copies. Surely they should be encouraging local historians, not exploiting them?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Fools and crawlers rush in

We were somewhat startled recently when a friend saw his house advertised for sale for a few hundred pounds the other day on the internet. Not only had he no intention to sell, but he would have been minded to ask for something in the region of three million pounds for his grand country house.

It happened because one of these awful website 'Aggregators' fell upon the F&DLHS website, and came across the newspaper archive, thinking it was a contemporary newspaper. It then proceeded to scoop up all the 'Houses For Sale' items that we put in from the eighteenth or nineteenth century. It then re-advertised them on its own site, thinking they were current. We have put old 'For Sale' items from the past in the newspaper archives because they often contain fascinating descriptions of houses with information that cannot be gleaned elsewhere. We had no intention to embarrass the current owners.
People who are looking for local historical information often type in the name of the parish. If they do this in Google, the first page or so of listings are CyberSquatters who try to pretend that they know the hotels, houses-for-sale, plumbers or Taxis in the area. These sites consist of nothing more than a web crawler, possibly based in a different part of the world that sneaks into other real sites and steals their content. In our case, the site was exposed for what it was, a robber on the information highway. One day, one hopes, Google will find a way of kicking out these nuisance sites and allow their users to go straight to the useful information. The signs are there, as our site is now the first that appears when one types 'Foxearth' into Google's search.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The demise of the Borley Ghost Society

As you know, the FHLHS covers the core parishes of Foxearth, Borley, Pentlow and Liston, and we regard any local history to do with anything in these four parishes to be our core interest. We obviously welcome and encourage research by others. We were therefore somewhat startled when the Borley Ghost Society wound itself up. Members received the message

In honor of my mother, who would never have approved of the publicity,and in respect for the people of Borley, the Borley Ghost Society is hereby dissolved.
Thank you for your enthusiasm and hard work.
Please respect these concerns and stop all further activity, publishing, etc.
Thank you, Vincent O'Neil

The website then was taken off the web and passwords were changed, thereby preventing contributors accessing their materials. This website was memorable for its wonderful archive of materials and a superb bibligraphy.
Despite its title, The 'Borley Ghost Society' turns out to be a private club owned by Vince O'Neil, so he can dispose of it as he wishes.
We have contributed some materials to their site, including all the press cuttings to do with Borley Rectory that we could find so the Society's demise was sad news.

If it fails to reappear, and we are all hoping very much that it will not fail to reappear, we'll do what we can to fill some of the gap left by the withdrawl of this wonderful resource. In the meantime, we keep our fingers crossed and hope that the site re-emerges