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 Historical information doesn't really go out of date!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.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

We've only three days to find out

Recently, two young girls appeared here. They were aged about six, very articulate, and professing themselves interested in Archaeology. As is appropriate, I greeted them seriously and politely, and mentioned that we have a bronze-age barrow at the end of the garden. They expressed delight, clapping their hands in glee. I offered to show it to them and we trooped up the garden to the old meadow that has had the hand of man on it for thousands of years. We stood in reverent silence, broken only when one of the girls said "It's rather flat, isn't it?” "Ploughed-out" said the older girl, wisely. They trooped into the field where they engaged in some field walking. "Aha!" said one of them, picking up a broken fletton from the edge of the field, "We have some archaeology here". "Yes", I agreed, "we have".

It is hard to exaggerate the passion which archaeology has for the young. A whole generation, reared on 'Time Team' is now graduating and trying to get jobs in an overcrowded and underpaid profession. What was once a sleepy, relaxed, occupation is now, to use a Blairite expression 'vibrant'. With the new enthusiasm has come a new hard-nosed approach. In the old days, one could pick up a trowel, pop over to the local dig and lend a hand. A cousin of mine, a professional illustrator specialising in recording archaeological digs, used to 'keep his hand in' by doing voluntary excavation work. Not now! You have to pay to do archaeological work now. So many retired people are taking up Archaeology that the 'grey pound' is being siphoned from them in an ever-increasing torrent. Cash-strapped universities are seeing archaeology as a milch cow.

Fairly recently, I managed to get part of the frame of a former horizontal mill-race from under the water-mill here. It is of great importance to date this framework, as none to my knowledge have ever been Dendro-dated, and mediaeval wooden frames for horizontal wheels are almost unknown. The specimen is here still. I cannot get any archaeologist interested. The county Archaeologist cheerfully invited me to pay the commercial going rate to have it done (over £200). There was a time that a quiet word with the local university would result in a free service. Not now guv! We are all part of the New Labour economy.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Redemption and 'The Single Eye'.

One of the most amusing religious charlatans in East Anglia during the Interregnum in the mid-seventeenth century was Lawrence Clarkson. Fortunately, we know a great deal of his exploits because he eventually repented and wrote a most entertaining book about his former sinful exploits under the title of ‘The Lost Sheep found’ (1660)

During his adolescence in Norfolk, Clarkson was attracted to religious non-conformism and, during his adolescence sampled several religious sects. He had a natural talent as a preacher ‘I had great power in the things of God’, and soon obtained a position as a preacher in Pulham Market for a large salary. ‘so that I thought I was in heaven’.

He became involved in a number of scandals, including his proclivities for baptising ladies in the nude, and having sex there in the water with the prettiest ones. He was eventually arrested and jailed in Bury Jail, where he ruefully concluded that ‘there was none who could live without sin in this world’.

On getting out of Bury Jail, he became an Antinomian Itinerant preacher. Because he was intelligent, flamboyant and charismatic, he soon had a following that included several young ladies. He preached the philosophy that ‘there was no sin but as man esteemed it sin, and therefore none can be freed from sin till in purity it be acted as no sin’. He settled eventually in London, where several ladies took such a practical interpretation of his theology that Clarkson was exhausted from the effort of ‘redeeming’ them, and had to return back to Suffolk to his wife who accepted his excuse that ‘only my body was given to other women’, He left just in time, as the scandal of his bedroom antics led to an attempted arrest by the Lord Mayor of London.

The lure of the ladies proved too strong for him and he was soon in Chelmsford ‘feasting and drinking’ and enjoying the sexual favours of a Mary Middleton and Mrs Star. He then took over a Ranter Community in London. This community, like other Ranters, were given to free love, smoking ‘Spanish tobacco’ (probably cannabis) and nude dancing by ladies; ‘Doctor Paget’s maid stripped herself naked and skipped among them’. He wrote a radical tract, suggestively called ‘The Single Eye’, which was banned by Parliament. Eventually he was arrested and banished, but the sentence was never put into effect.

Clarkson’s life became yet more scandalous. He preached throughout East Anglia on redemption through sin and sexual libertinism. He added fortune-telling, magic shows, and Physic to his travelling show, assisted by a lady from Sudbury who ‘assisted me pretending she could do by witchcraft whatever she pleased’.
In the course of his life as a lecherous irresponsible fraud, he often wondered if he really had some sort of gift, and found he was able to cure sickness. He was unlike the worst of the preachers who exploited the religious turmoil of the time in that he had a wide knowledge of the scriptures and of religious thought.

Eventually, having drifted from Sect to sect, he settled down in East Anglia, decided that there was more to life than redeeming young ladies, and wrote up the story of his rather startling life.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Savages of Cavendish

Sometimes the strangest stories are the ones that turn out to be true. So it is with George Savage, a farm labourer's son from Cavendish, who spotted an advert in a paper, placed by a young lady, for a 'partner'. He set off to London, lived a long and successful life, and died worth a considerable fortune which he bequeathed to the poor and needy of Cavendish.

It is said that George, who worked for Thomas Edward Ambrose, Basil's Grandfather, regularly took a National Daily Newspaper and saw an advertisement therein for a 'partner', whether it was meant a husband or business partner is not known, He took a day's holiday, went to London and proposed successfully, and became both husband or business partner. He married Emma in 1873. He moved to London and helped his wife with her business. They prospered and the business expanded, so that George became the proprietor of an hotel in Waterloo Road in London.

As he became wealthire, he purchased Hill Farm, Glemsford, with about 60 acres and they came down for weekends to stock up with country fayre provisions for their London business. He then, in 1883, bought Glemsford Brickyards, 23 acres of land, a dwelling house and cottage in Lower Road, Glemsford. He let the brickyards and some of the rest and over the years acquired further land and properties. He retired to Hill House in Lower Road after 50 years in the hotel business. Emma, who lost her sight in later years, died in 1924. She was thrown from a trap, driven by her husband, after the pony shied and she never regained consciousness. When his wife died he sold up and retired. When he died aged 92, he left his fortune to his sister, his cousins, his nephews and nieces, his housekeeper and gardener and the residue to the Congregational Chapel of Cavendish, to care for the poor, elderly and the sick of Cavendish. '...for the poor and sick of the village and in recognition of the many acts of kindness to my late father and mother shown by the villagers'.

George's father, who died aged 94 in 1913, was a farm labourer and later a farmer on a small scale. George Savage was born in Cavendish in 1845, one of a family of twelve. His parents, brother Charles and sister Mrs Elsey, all lived beyond the age of 90. His mother died in 1919 aged ninety eight. George used to recount that when he was too young to walk far, he would be carried into the fields by his father and left to scare birds for a shilling (5p) a week. On many occasions his only food was swedes. One of George's brothers lived in Hyde Park Corner beside Cavendish Green.

Mr Savage's housekeeper, who as Miss Mary Gertrude Brown was left £1000 and property, subsequently married an old sweetheart, and became Mrs Grimwood."I was companion to his wife, who was blind for many years", she remembered, "I was with them when they celebrated their golden wedding. After she died thirteen years ago, I became his housekeeper, and looked after him to the end , now I am forty six, and a very happily married woman, thanks to him"."His sister, to whom he left £500 is now ninety one and his brother , who died last year was ninety two".

The George Savage Trust was set up by the Church Deacons and Basil Ambrose's father, Tom, to administer George's instructions in his will. At the first meeting the Trust was registered with the Charity Commission. The capital sum was invested and the interest received was used to make grants to those in need in the village.

The five cottages on Cavendish Green, known as The Hyde Park Corner cottages, which feature so heavily in any description of the village were rescued from the threat of demolition by the Cavendish Preservation Society. After their renovation, the George Savage Trust accepted responsibility for the cottages in November 1957. It was thought that the provision of 'almshouse' accommodation was within the spirit of the original bequest. They are now administered for the benefit of people connected with the village of Cavendish and form an outstanding group of renovated buildings of international interest. There are five separate dwellings in the group, some with two bedrooms. New residents must be over the age of 60 and have some connection with Cavendish either through family or residence. The maintenance charges are kept at reasonable levels. Seven village residents serve as trustees, some of whom are nominated by local councils.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Plague on Braintree

In the summer of 1665, a third of the population of Braintree died of the plague. Nearly one thousand died and the town as quarantined from the rest of Essex. Local people had to rely on the generosity of others in providing food which was left in a field outside Rayne. The Earl of Warwick left two bullocks a week and Lord Maynard sent thirty sheep.

Most of the survivors refused to leave their houses, where they felt safe from infection. Long grass and weeds grew in the streets. It was not until the end of summer that the town began to recover.

Braintree was not the only place to suffer. The plague had spread from London into Essex and it ravaged the county. In Colchester half the population of around 9,000 people (4,731) people died. This was probably the most destructive attack of plague in any town in England. Such was the misery and commercial collapse in Essex that agriculture failed, and famine set in. Legislation was passed to prevent the hoarding of grain, and was strictly enforced by the constables of the parishes. Strangely, Chelmsford and Saffron Walden were more or less spared, which takes some explanation as many of the prople of Braintree had fled to Chelmsford when the plague had struck their own town.

Historians have always assumed that the plague had come from the London Docks, spread throughout London and thence to Essex, and it is true that the towns of Essex near London were badly affected, but Colchester's plague seemed to come early on, and Essex was worse affected than any other county. It is possible that it was Colchester's port, the Hythe, that was responsible for hosting the arrival of this virulent strain of the Plague.

The science of medicine was in its infancy, and there were no effective measures against the plague except quarantine, and this was impossible to enforce adequately. Many lotions and potions were suggested. Walden's Saffron trade was given a boost at the time by the idea that Saffron was an effective remedy; Curiously, Saffron Waldon escaped the plague though the reputation of Saffron may have been a consequence of their luck. Cures for the plage abounded: the pamphlet 'Harry Hangman's Honor' (1655) offered the following bit of curious information: "Take a fresh stoole from a sweet proper beautiful lady or gentlewoman, aged forty years, being wrapped up in a sweet clean linen handkerchief and applied to the nose, it is an excellent antidote against the plague". This was not an isolated example of the belief in the efficacy of excrement. Human, horse, and even pig feces were considered to be valuable medicine. Indeed, W. Parks's 'The Curtain-Drawer of the World' (1612) listed the dung of humans, hens, wolves, and doves as well as the vomit of dogs as medicinally valuable (p. 6)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Essex Placenames in New England, USA

I seem to remember that it was Nancy Mitford who was responsible for the story of the English tourist in Rome being puzzled that the monuments all seemed to be named after London Cinemas. Likewise, tourists to Essex express their surprise that we seem to have named our towns and villages after towns in The States. The New England area of the states has a remarkable number of places named after placenames in Essex (over forty). I am indebted to Arthur Harrison for this list, which dates from the 1960s.

ESSEX County
Massachusetts, one of the oldest settlement areas, and containing Middleton and Topsfield, with Ipswich and Haverhill. (Chelmsford, Billerica and Malden are in the adjoining Middlesex County).
ESSEX County
Middlesex County. Connecticut; set off 1852; population c3,500.
Essex County. Massachusetts; Settled 1634; incorporated 1819.
Chittenden County. Vermont chartered 1763, Settled1783.
Middlesex County. Massachusetts : Settled 1637; incorporated 1655; population c 11,000.
Norfolk County, Massachusetts; Settled 1634; incorporated 1640; population c 23,000.
Orange County. Vermont population c 620.
Rockingham County. New Hampshire ; population c 800.
Waldo County, Maine; population c 700.
Middlesex County. Massachusetts; Settled 1633;incorporated 1655; population c 9,000.
New London County, Connecticut; Settled and incorporated 1699 : boro' 1824; population c 3.000.
Chittenden County, Vermont population c 4,000; onLake Champlain; iron mills and forge were established by 1783.
Fairfield County. Connecticut; Settled 1684; incorporated 1687; city 1889; population c 30,000.
Merrimack County, New Hampshire ; population c 500.
Hancock County. Maine; population c 400.
Norfolk County. Massachusetts; Settled 1635; incorporated 1636;Fairbanks House, 1636, is the oldest framehouse in the United States
(nowadays EASTHAM). Barnstaple County. Massachusetts; Settled 1644; incorporated 1651; population c 800.
Fairfield County. Connecticut : Settled ca 1757; population c 2,000.
Aroostook County. Maine; incorporated 1864; population c 1600.
Bristol County, Massachusetts; Settled 1694; i 1725; population c6,000.
Rockingham County. New Hampshire : early settlement, set off from Exeter by 1741 : population c 1,800.
Hampshire County. Massachusetts : Settled 1659; incorporated 1661; population c 2,600.
Barnstable County. Massachusetts; Settled ca 1670;incorporated 1694; population c 2,600; formerly a whaling and shipbuilding town.
Hampshire County. Massachusetts; Settled 1661 : setoff from Hadley 1670; population c 2.000.
Middlesex County. Massachusetts; Settled 1640; incorporated 1649 ; city 1881; population c 60,000.
Strafford County. New Hampshire : population c 250.
Essex County. Massachusetts; Settled 1659; organized 1728; population c 3,000.
Worcester County. Massachusetts; population c 500.
, Orleans County, Vermont; Settled 1793; chartered 1803; incorporated 1917; population c 5,000; the next town to the north is Stanstead, prov. of Quebec, Canada.
Rockingham County. New Hampshire ; incorporated 1749 (previously part of Haverhill, Massachusetts).
Litchfield County, Connecticut; village and railway station; twenty miles north-west of Waterbury.
Oxford County, Me; Settled 1774: incorporated 1800;population c 10,000.
Providence County. R.incorporated ; settled as a Massachusetts town, but now part of East Providence, R.I.
Penobscot County. Maine; population c 400.
Hampden County. Massachusetts : Settled 1636;incorporated 1641; city 1852; population c 162.000; founded by William Pynchon of Springfield. Essex, England.
Sullivan County, New Hampshire : population c 300.
Windsor County. Vt : Settled before Revolution; population c 9,000
prov. of Quebec, Canada.
Fairfield County : Connecticut : Settled 1639; population c 33,000.
Coos County, New Hampshire : Settled 1772; population c 1,000; opposite Essex County. Vermont
Washington County. Maine; village.
Essex County. Massachusetts : Settled ca 1635 : incorporated 1648; population c 1,400.
Oxford County. Maine : population c 100.
Worcester County. Massachusetts; Settled 1728; incorporated 1735; population c 2,600.
Caledonia County, Vermont : population c 500.
Hancock County. Me : population c 150.
Middlesex County, Massachusetts : Settled 1634 ; setoff from Watertown 1738 : city 1884; population c 47,000.
Addison County. Vermont population c 200.
Windsor County, Vermont : Settled ca 1775; population c 1,300.
Hartford County. Connecticut : Settled 1634;population c 12,500; first ship launched in Connecticut, 1649.
Washington County, R.incorporated ; Settled soon after1650 ; population c 2,400; oyster and lobster fisheries;fine 18th-century building
Bennington County, Vermont : population c 200.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Am I Not a Man and a Brother

We recently came across the following newspaper cutting from the Ipswich Journal for 1752

February 8th 1752

Run away from Josuah Steel of Hall Place, Berkshire, a handsome black slave-5ft 4 inches high-the property of Mrs Sarah Steel of Barbadoes, his plantation name is "Sambo" but he has assumed the name of William Gardener, anyone who harbours him will be prosecuted under the law or anyone giving information shall receive one guinea reward.

Poor Mr Gardener. The presence of Black Africans in Britain was not unusual at the time, as West Indians were widely employed in both the army and Navy. However, it would have been difficult to remain inconspicuous. In East Anglia, he would have met a great deal of sympathy, which is possibly why Josuah Steel went to the expense of advertising in the Ipswich-based newspaper.

There was, at the time, a fashion to have a black slave, and 'Sambo' was a common 'Plantation' name. One remembers "Sambo's Grave" in Lancaster, with the poigniant inscription.

Full sixty years the angry winter's wave,
Has thundering dashed this bleak and barren shore,
Since Sambo's head laid in this lonely grave,
Lies still and ne'er will hear their turmoil more.
Full many a sandbird chirps upon the sod,
And many a moonlight elfin round him trips,
Full many a summer's sunbeam warms the clod,
And many a teeming cloud upon him drips.
But still he sleeps - till the awakening sounds,
Of the Archangel's trump new life impart,
Then the Great Judge his approbation founds,
Not on man's colour but his worth of heart.

At the time, slaves were not allowed to be buried on consecrated ground.

Without doubt, the slave Trade hade done a great deal to enhance the prosperity of London, Bristol, Liverpool and the other great trading ports, and continued to do so at the time. However, East Anglia gained little from the economic boom that came from the exploitation of the American continent using slave labour. It was here that campaigners such as Thomas Clarkson gained his best reception. Clarkson was a Wisbech man, born in 1760. Coleridge called him the 'moral Steam-Engine', the power behind Wilberforce's political campaign. He worked tirelessly to gather information about the cruelty of enslavement, which he presented at local meetings and to local communities. He gathered 1500 petitions to lobby Parliament signed by a million and a half people in Britain and encouraged boycotts against products made under slavery. Around 300,000 people refused to buy sugar, which had been produced in the British West Indies. One can do no better than to quote from our own newspaper records to illustrate a century of continuing opposition to the Slave trade.

March 26th 1788

On Saturday last at a meeting at the Assembly House in our town, of taking consideration on application to Parliament for the abolishment of the slave trade. Sir Charles Bunbury proposed the motion and Arthur Young seconded it.

February 15th 1792

A meeting of the inhabitants of Bury was held with James Mathew chairman, it was resolved to petition Parliament for the abolision of the slave trade.

April 16th 1823

Some interesting extracts from a pamphlet on abolishment of slavery will be found on this page, notice has been given in the House of Commons of a motion on gradual abolition of this disgrace to human nature.

March 3rd 1824

A petition now in circulation in Sudbury for the gradual emancipation of slaves in the West Indies has been signed by 350 persons and will be sent to Parliament.

April 20th 1831

Editorial of Bury Post----We rejoice that the ministers are resolved to proceed in the work of preparation for the slave and his freedom and will neither be deluded by the sophistry nor deterred by the blustering of the planters.

May 8th 1833

The Duke of Wellington has told us that the West India slaves must be gradually emancipated because they are better off than if they were free

September 6th 1837

The Rev Dr Price has rendered an important service to humanity by a statement of a Negro slave recently freed from apprenticeship, the statement says
" I am about 18 years, I was a slave to Mr Senior and his sister and brought up in the place where they live called Penhurst in Jamacia in St Anne's parish, I have been ill treated by Mr Senior and the magistrate when the new law came in, apprentices get a good deal of punishment since they were slaves, the master to spite do all they can to hurt before free they come, I have heard my master say " those English devils say we to be free but he will pretty well weaken us before the 6 and 4 years be done and we shall be no use to ourselves afterwards".

July 18th 1838

Thank God that in another fortnight, slavery will cease to exist in the British West India Colony.

January 30th 1850

JUST PUBLISHED, price 2d----MAN STEALING by PROXY or the guilt of our countrymen in up holding the SLAVE TRADE by the purchasing of SLAVE GROWN PRODUCE by John Fitzgerald.

June 12th 1866

A lecture on slavery was delivered in the Town Hall, Bury, on Monday evening by the Rev J. Hughes, a coloured Minister from the state of Maryland on "the former and present conditions of the emancipated slaves through the American war", a collection was made at the close.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Rev. Charles Spurgeon

Were there to be any competition to determine the most famous or industrious Essex Man ever, my candidate would be Charles Spurgeon. Although you may not have heard of him, his 100 books sold an incredible 150 million copies altogether.

Spurgeon's mother, Eliza Jarvis, was born at Belchamp Otten on May 3, 1815, so that she was little more than nineteen years of age at the time of her son's birth. His father was born at Clare on July 15, 1810 and was about twenty-four, and outlived his famous son. Charles’s branch of the Spurgeon family came from Stambourne, where his grandfather was the pastor of the congregational church for fifty-four years. Charles was born in Kelvedon in 1834 but his childhood was mostly spent with his grandfather in Stambourne.

He always remembered the manse with its brick hall floor sprinkled with sand; its windows in part plastered up to escape the window tax; its attic, full of books. He had many hiding places, such as a horse block in front of the Meeting House or an altar-like erection over a tomb where one of the slabs of stone at the side moved easily, so that the boy could enter, pull it back again into its place, and shut himself off, "Dreaming of days to come befell me every now and then as a child, and to be quite alone was my boyish heaven."

Charles was a bright boy and did well in his studies, becoming a teacher in Cambridge, where he started to become active in the Baptist Church. He turned out to be a brilliant preacher; filling whatever church he practiced his art. When appointed to be pastor of New Park Street church in Southwark, he filled not only the1200 seats of the church, but also the road outside.. He moved to Exeter hall in the Strand, but the 500 seats proved too few and the overflow congregation blocked the Strand to traffic. Even the Metropolitan Tabernacle proved to small and so by 1857, Charles Spurgeon had to preach to his congregation of 25,000 in the open air. However, he preached regularly at the Metropolitan Tabernacle to a ticket-only congregation that included William Gladstone, Lord Shaftsbury, and John Ruskin.
Spurgeon published his sermons from 1855 onwards, and he continued to publish them for the next thirty-seven years. Copies were sold around the world and his sermons had colossal influence in the development of the moral ethos behind the British Empire. He also published magazines. Altogether, his published output that eclipsed that of any other British author.

Spurgeon’s writing earned him a fortune that he used to promote the training of Baptist ministers, provide almshouses, and to fund the building of Baptist churches.

Spurgeon loved his native Essex:

Essex is not a suburban county; it is a characteristic and individualised country which wins the heart. Between dear Essex and the centre of things lie two great barriers, the East End of London, and Epping Forest. Before a train could get to any villadom with a cargo of season-ticket holders, it would have to circle around the rescued woodland and travel for twenty unprofitable miles; and so once you are away from the main Great Eastern lines, Essex still lives in the peace of the eighteenth century, and London, the modern Babylon, is, like the stars, just a light in the nocturnal sky.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Edward Bingham and the Hedingham Pottery.

Once you have seen the pots of Edward Bingham, the potter of Hedingham, you will never forget them. The best of them have an almost anarchic quality. One is left gasping the exuberance of the modelling, and the way that he takes a classical idea and gives it a tremendous vitality. He was a potter who managed to avoid having the originality of his art beaten out of him, for he was taught by himself and his father. At the same time his work is sometimes mistaken for authentic fifteenth-, sixteenth-, and seventeenth-century wares.

Edward Bingham was from a potting family. The Binghams came from Lambeth to Gestingthorpe in 1834. His father was a potter who made plain pottery and garden ornaments. The young Edward assisted his father for a while when the family moved to Hedingham but subsequently became a schoolmaster in Rugby. After his return, he worked for a while with his father but was forced to open a small school and to work at pottery in his spare time. The next six years were a struggle and he even spent some time as a sub-postmaster as he perfected his art as a potter.

There must have been something special about the young lad that was recognised by various people in the area, who leant him books on pottery, and showed him pots to copy. By the 1880s he was achieving success, and there were thirteen kilns and a ramshackle pottery in the Hedingham area, mostly in what is now Potters Lane, manned by various members of the Bingham family, and he had exhibited at the Albert Hall.

The Early Bingham pots used the local clay which was rather coarse but fired to a rich brown colour, and he experimented with glazes to achieve striking blues, greens, greys and browns. Later on, he bought in a clay from Devon which altered the characteristics of the pots.

The workshops were untidy and described as being of mediaeval appearance.. The walls were covered with biblical texts referring to pots and pottery, and works of reference lay scattered around with illustrations of classical pots, babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Venetian.

The pots themselves were indescribable, with an authentically antique appearance, and where details burst out with an almost outrageous exuberance, humans, animals, vegetation, coats of arms, patterns and symbols.

Bingham was a visionary and an artist. He had few commercial instincts. He found the technical aspects of the work slightly baffling, and gradually passed over this side of the work to his son. Eventually, the firm was bought by a Devon Pottery in 1901, and poor Edward Bingham was deserted by his family who emigrated to the States. After a pathetic struggle to continue producing pots, he gave up and he joined the rest of his family in the States, where he retired, complaining of the lack of a good clay in America.

Friday, April 08, 2005

'happy in the possession of absolutely no history'

The town of Chelmsford had the
famous Grocer's shop of F. Luckin Smith

In 1889, the British Industrial Publishing Company produced a book called 'Industries of the Eastern Counties Business Review: Essex'. This was a review of major manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing concerns in the county, dealt with town by town. It would seem that one had to subscribe to be in the directory as several major manufacturers are notable by their absence. The review was republished in 1982 by Essex Libraries, and it should still be possible to pick up a copy cheaply. It is full of the most wonderful illustrations, culled from a variety of sources, some of which were then several decades old. Each town had its own chapter which started with a nice engraved view of the town and a historical description.

All was obviously well until they got to Braintree. Here, the copywriter began to struggle. Having dealt confidently with Colchester's majestic history, and coped with the broad sweep of events in Chelmsford, he was rather stuck with a town apparently bereft of any distinguishing features. Bravely he wrote …

"Braintree, which we read of under the name of "Raines" in Domesday Book, is situated 11 miles north by east from Chelmsford, and is a market town of Essex, of which the latter place is the chief town. Although a place of considerable antiquity, Braintree has been fortunate in lying outside the area of the great political and social convulsions which have played so conspicuous a part in the domestic history of so many of our English towns, and therefore possesses little in the shape of matter for the chronicler … … The parish church, which is under the invocation of St. Michael the Archangel, is a .fine Gothic structure, and dates back to a very early period, but contains little of interest to the general reader, though within its precincts the archaeologist or the antiquary will find plenty of room for reflection … "

Likewise, when he got to Halstead, his heart must have sunk, and he was inspired to write …

"The town is neat, clean, and pleasant, and the streets are wide and spacious. Halstead is to be numbered with those towns which are said to be happy in the possession of absolutely no history. Although a place of some antiquity, no famous battles have been fought here, no illustrious prisoners have pined here, and no historical murders of expediency have here been enacted."

Perhaps the local historians of Braintree and Halstead would beg to differ with these sentiments but on those days, 'history' meant splendid battles, stone castles, and chaps in doublet and hose.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Weighed down by the Bible

East Anglia was by no means the most superstitious region of Britain, but it was notable for the persistence of archaic beliefs. The belief in Witchcraft was an occasional nuisance to the authorities even in victorian times, and was widespread in the previous century. Here is a typical example, which gives a hint of the revulsion that the better educated felt towards the persecution of people accused of witchcraft.

Norwich Gazette: Sept. 1752

By a letter from Woodbridge in Suffolk, we learn that the country people about Aspal Stonham in that neighbourhood are still so full of ignorance and superstition that they imagine there are several witches and wizards in that neighbourhood and they have tied up two or three old people in sheets with cords round their middles and flung them into the rivers to see if they could save themselves. But whether the cords held them up or Providence supported them, the poor wretches, it is certain have got safe to shore. This has confirmed their opinion and to them they attribute their loss of cattle, bad harvests &c, and insist that these poor wretches shall be tried by the church bible whether they are witches or no, for if witches, the bible will turn round and not weigh them down or such idle stuff.

The short publication on this site, 'The Swimming of Witches' is one of our more popular ones, and the whole topic of folk-lore and superstition is a fascinating one for the local historian, expecially for us, because the site of Borley Rectory, once dubbed 'the most Haunted House in England' by the tabloid press, is within the area of the four parishes covered by the F&DLHS, and the draft of the book 'The Bones of Borley', is also on the site.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Telephones and Carrier pigeons.

A Boston audience listening to a speech
by Graham Bell 15 miles away (1877)

I was puzzling over the date of some photographs of Cavendish when I noticed some telegraph poles. I therefore assumed the date to be in the nineteen twenties. I thought I ought to look up the date of the introductionn of the telephone just to check, and was surprised to find that, by the turn of the twentieth century, there were three million telephone subscribers. Indeed, by the start of the introduction of the picture postcard in 1880, there were already 50,000 subscribers. One article I read lamented the demise of the carrier-pidgeon as an effective means of communication, as a result of the introduction of the new-fangled telephone. It added to my store of knowledge by asserting that the Rothchilds fortune was based on the effective use of carrier pigeons. Evidently, they had a man at the Battle of Waterloo with several pigeons. As soon as the result became certain, the agent let the pigeons fly with the result, and the Rothchilds therby had three clear days with the certain knowledge of victory whilst the stock-market remained in jitters awaiting the result. Whenever a rumour of the defeat of Wellington swept the market, the Rothchilds bought. They thereby had carrier pigeons to thank for being able to buy a considerable number of stocks at knock-down prices. As soon as the news of victory arrived in London, the stock-market leapt in value to the enormous profit of the Rothchilds.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The dregs of the people and ne'er-do-wells

In 1784, a minor French aristocrat, Francios De La Rochefoucauld, visited Sudbury and wrote the following lines...

'On our arrival at Sudbury we had breakfast and then sent for a manufacturer who told us a little about the trade of the town and its population. There is one remarkable thing for which the most competent authorities would find it difficult to give a proper account. Why is the population of the towns so different in regard to the class of people who live distributed in each town? Why are some towns inhabited only by the dregs of the people and by ne'er-do-wells?
I must recollect that I am in England, where the nobility and the gentry, who two or three months of the year are in the capital, are evenly distributed through all the counties round all the towns. The country around Sudbury is pleasant enough, the hills and valleys provide agreeable prospects, and yet the town and its neighbourhood are inhabited only by people without any fortune, by smugglers, bankrupts and the like. It is a misfortune for which I cannot account, but it is an established fact that there is not a decent man in the place.
There is a considerable trade in wool and silk stuffs. The latter are all for the London market, and the money being invested by merchants from the Capital who get the work done at the lowest prices. There are about a hundred looms at work. The number of woolen looms is larger; I do not know how many there are, as the manufacturer could not tell us. The cloth is course and thick, a kind of double serge suitable for being made into dresses for women of the lower classes. It is made in lengths of twenty-seven to forty yards, a yard being 3ft.
The trade of the town is as large as it can be, I mean that all hands are engaged in it, and even fresh hands would find work there. During the period of the American War the trade declined and sank almost to nothing, but now it has recovered its former vigour. However they say as regards Camlet and calendered stuffs, which they make in large quantities, France is beginning to be a serious rival. The Workman's wage is from twelve to sixteen shillings a week, a shilling being worth twenty-four sous. The rent of land on the outskirts of the town is twelve shillings an acre'.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Badly-made cheese.

On the 16th June 1759, the following item appeared in the Ipswich Journal

To Suffolk Farmers----The Suffolk Cheese being so badly made for some years past, the Lords of the Admiralty have thought it fit to exclude it from the Royal Navy for one year. By it being made better it is recommended for the future, it being no worse than two meal sleet leaving only the morning milk of which cheese is made or four meal, putting in all the morning milk on the day the cheese is made. It is hoped the dairymen will desist from making cheese from November till the beginning of May as it is of bad quality and has brought great odium to the country cheese.

We were most amused to see that a new enterprise has started out called Suffolk farmhouse Cheeses. This requires our support and we should all buy our cheese from them at:
2 Park Cottages,
Shrubland Park,
We therefore challenged them to prove that their 'Suffolk' cheese was better than the stuff that the Lords of the Admiralty thought it fit to exclude it from the Royal Navy for one year. Jason wrote back wondering where we get a sample of the cheese that so offended the admiralty. No problem, I thought. Last year, we furnished Nethergate brewery with a recipe of a victorian brew of beer which we discovered from the notebook of the great David Ward who ran Ward's Brewery in Foxearth. They brewed a batch from the recipe and it turned out to be excellent. It is selling well. It would be a challenge to find a 1760 Suffolk Cheese recipe which we would do our best to meet. And I shall dress up like Dr Johnson to give my verdict on the difference in quality.

So please stop buying the bland wretched waxy stuff from that naughty supermarket and surprise yourself with the proper cheese from Jason and Katherine, and please, please will someone find a recipe for a 250 year-old Suffolk Cheese! This would be a splendid historical recreation.

It would seem that Cheese was always a valuable export from East Anglia. William Camden, the historian and cartographer, for example, described the Essex marshlands as 'plentifull in grasse, and rich in cattaille, but sheepe especially, where all their doing is in making of Cheese- and there shall ye have men take the womens office in hand and milk Ewes, whence these huge thicke cheeses are made that are vented and sould not onely into all parts of England but into forraign nations also.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Move to the light

One of the best pictures of the Borley Ghost was taken accidentally by a Borley resident over twenty years ago. The photograph is reproduced here

What is the strange figure on the right of the picture?

The children in the picture, the photographers' relatives, are now grown-up. The picture was taken at night at Borley church, and the great Waldegrave tomb is clearly seen. For years, the strange figure on the left was entirely unnoticed until the photograph was prepared for publication on this website. The image was scanned in and put through image-enhancement software (a routine for old photoggraphs) and suddenly, what looked like a hooded figure was notice to the right of the children. Is this the real ghost of Borley?