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 Historical information doesn't really go out of date!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

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Star that Fell to Earth

In 1857, a meteorite was seen across the south east of England, heading toward Suffolk. It was recorded in some newspaper entries, and seems to have fallen into the Stour Valley near Foxearth Mill

November 3rd 1857 Bury Free Press

Letters to the Editor.

About ½ a mile south east of Hornsey rail station at 5-30 in the evening, I observed the descent of a brilliant meteor, it's descent was perpendicular and appeared like a very large orange but of blue colour changing to red leaving behind a stream of sparks.

J.D. of Stoke Newington.

Nov. 1st. Editors Note

As the meteor was falling in the direction of Suffolk, it would be quite interesting and might solve the question as to the distance of these bodies, to know where it was observed in this county.

November 10th 1857 Bury Free Press

A correspondent informs us that his daughter, aged 14 , saw "the ball of fire" at Glemsford Town End and it appeared to fall among some trees at Foxearth water mill, she went home and said how frightened she was.

Paul Suttle and GH, our resident historian, were recently talking about old times, whilst out walking by the gravel pits which are called the Star Field pits. Paul casually said "my father, David Suttle, who worked for A.V.C.Lambert of Foxearth Hall was working on those fields sometime, I think, in the 1930-40s when he found what he thought was a meteorite, he brought it home, a heavy lead molten metal object and it kicked about our garden for years and we never thought anything of it".
Was this how the field, which is now a well known fishing spot of several acres, got the name "Star Field Pits"? Where is the 'meteorite' now?

This is not the first meteorite strike in Suffolk. On Oct 30 1801 a Suffolk miller’s house and stable was razed to the ground by fire started by a meteor strike. There was a meteorite strike at East Bergholt. We have already, in a previous entry, mentioned a meteor strike at Aldborough

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Belfast Sloop and the Success

From the Ipswich Journal of 1741 comes the following gruesome tale which illustrates startlingly the hazards faced by those seeking to emigrate to the New World. Perhaps one of our American cousins would please check this story for us for it would be fascinating to know if it is true. Would anyone of a nervous or delicate disposition please read no further...

December 26th 1741

America, Boston. 

Captain Thompson of His Majesty's ship Success, said that on the 23rd of October about 80 leagues eastwards of Cape Anne they met a Sloop in great distress, she came from Belfast in Ireland and was bound for Philadelphia with 108 passengers, but having been out 17 weeks were so distressed for provisions that about 30 of them died for want, among them were the master and all the sailors but one, so they could not manage the sails or steer the vessel they had eat up all the tallow candles and for several weeks had fed on the bodies of those who died and when people from the Success went on board they found the body of a man lying on the deck partly cut up with his arm and his shoulder boiling in a pot in salt water and so eager were the poor famished people for the flesh of their dead companions that many concealed pieces of flesh in their pockets. 

Captain Thompson put aboard a midshipman and three other hands to navigate the vessel and gave beef, bread, water and wine sufficient for seven weeks. 

Last Saturday the sloop arrived but so many of the people had died since the man of war left them that their numbers had been reduced to 62, several were so weak they will not recover. All possible care is being taken of them, the master's name was Ebenezer Clark, the owner's name is Josiah Thompson who lives in New Haven, Connecticutt.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The photographs of Cavendish

At long last, the task of putting the collection of postcards and photographs of Cavendish has been completed, though we continue to work on getting everything accurately labelled. There are now 154 photographs of Cavendish on the site, dating from around 1860.

The task has proven to be enormous, but with the kind help of Terry Baxter, Tom Hastie, Stan Thompson and Jeremy Eldridge, we've managed to gather all the best photos of Cavendish together, and clean them up ready for viewing

The captioning is going to take a very long time as it is often hard work identifying the people in the photographs.

A number of entirely forgotten photos came to light during the search. My favourite is the picture of the little boy in a sailor-suit and sun-hat fishing from the sluice-gates of Paddock (Cavendish) Mill. The photo was originally so faded as to be almost indecypherable, a tiny photo pasted into an old scrap-book.

see the work in progress on Cavendish Pictures

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


One of the pictures that we were given for the photographic collection was the shot of Byford's horse-drawn removals van. The Byfords were a Cavendish family that moved to Glemsford. Where was the photograph taken? What do we know of the business? Every photograph seems to open up a line of enquiry. There is so much History in the area that is on the point of being lost, so many lives that ought to be recorded and remembered, that one wonders where to start

Byford's Removal Van

The photographic copy of Byford's van that we were given was in such a poor condition that it took a day of digital manipulation to make it presentable. I felt it was worth while because much of the horse-drawn transport ceased before it was felt worthwhile recording it. Any help from readers to track down details would be most worthwhile

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Global Warming and the Flooding of the Stour

Some splendid keen young surveyors appeared the other day to use all the power of their scientific training to detect whether the river really flooded badly enough to prevent building homes in the water-meadows in Cavendish

Haverhill High Street on September 15th 1968. The Stour suddenly asks for its valley back

There is a strange amnesia in the area about flooding. Cavendish has always been prone to flooding, because of its position in the river valley on a gravel bank, close to the rich alluvial silts.

In October 1859, a Cavendish 'correspondent' wrote to the papers saying 'The health of this village is anything but good, the situation being generally damp and muddy, within the last few weeks several young persons have fallen victim to consumption and many more children are ill with fever, it is questionable whether our forefathers acted with much wisdom in selecting a low swamp and marshes for habitation such as Cavendish must have been and even now during floods the water inundates not only the road but the houses as well.

Cavendish has been competely cut off from the outside world on two occasions in the past twenty years. On 15th September 1968, the flooding almost reached the ground-floor ceiling of some of the houses in Stour Street and Water Lane. The water got as far as Mr Hales Butchers' shop on the green and a Rolls-Royce motor car parked unluckily in Poole Street was immersed above the window-level. The Ground floors of low-lying houses, including the Old Rectory, Cavendish (The Sue Ryder Home where she lived with her husband Leonard Cheshire) flooded. The local MP was photographed in a boat shaking hands with a resident in Poole Street who was leaning out of the first-floor window. A local resident remembers water running through ground-floor windows, in several houses.

The East Anglian Daily Times of September 17th 1968 said

The centre of Cavendish was cut off late last night, 20 houses were flooded, firemen and police were standing by at the Sue Ryder Home for forgotten Allies, sandbags failed to stop the Home being flooded by the four foot of water from the Stour and all the residents moved upstairs. A few people from the home were put up for the night by villagers but it is thought most of the residents will be able to spend tonight in the Home. The Home is in the centre of the village which was last night completely cut off with flood waters blocking the main Sudbury-Haverhill road at both ends of the village, many telephones in the centre of the village were out order and residents in the flooded houses moved upstairs. For most of the day the village had been cut off in the Haverhill direction and flooding in the other end of the village occurred at a rapid rate, during the evening a large stretch of the Cavendish-Glemsford road was becoming badly flooded, 300 workers at Bush Boake Allen Ltd were sent home as a foot of water swept through the works.

The historical archive bears testimony to the frequent floods of the Stour. The power and force of a river in flood is quite striking. The idea of putting houses on stilts has been in one recent planning request from prospective developers. If the floodwater didn't contain such things as treetrunks, which move faster than a walking pace, this might be quite an idea, though I would imagine that prospective home-owners might resent being cut-off for around five days every winter. They also wouldn't appreciate the fact that the floodwater is generally dilute sewage, and the treatment plants and sceptic tanks in the valley are flooded out.

Delivering bread to Pentlow residents during a flood

The old photograph illustrates a typical winter flood at Cavendish. The local residents of Pentlow are taking delivery of bread. The water is pouring over Pentlow Lane. It is only a mild flood, as I can remember the water-level nearly at the top of my boots, going over the floodwalk. And a quick trawl through our newspaper archive will disabuse you of the notion that flooding is a recent phenomenon associated with global warming. The Stour, like every other British river, has always flooded. What makes flooding of the Stour around Cavendish, Melford and Ballingdon more dramatic is the clayey nature of the soil in Suffolk that does not absorb water but turns it straight into the ditches and thence into the Stour.

It is interesting to note that the precedent has now been set of allowing housing to be built in places that are known to flood, even when such housing presents the additional hazard of narrowing the valley bottom, and thereby increasing the risk of flooding upstream. At Bakers Mill, for example, a huge new estate of 'Narrow Footprint' housing has been allowed. These have garages underneath and are intended to allow the occupants to escape on foot! Anyone who has seen or experienced a real flood would shudder at the absurdity of deliberately building in the flood plain.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Strawplaiting was, at one time, a useful source of income for the rural poor of Essex. It was introduced into the county by George, the first Marquis of Buckingham at Gosfield, near Halstead as a way of relieving the plight of the villagers. The straw was used in the making of hats and bonnets. Straw Hats are still to be found, but they aere no longer made in Britain. It was a very skilled craft and local women found that it took some time to get it right, but the First Marquis determinedly wore the first creations to church and prominently displayed his hat on the end of his pew so that the whole congregation behind him should be able to take on the new fashion.

Straw-Plaiting near St Albans
from the Illustrated London News 1853

Essex corn provided a superabundance of the raw material, which was clipped into lengths, bunched loosely together ,damped well and then bleached to a clear golden hue by fuming it in sulphur. It was then split using a small instrument called an 'engine' or splitting “machine” , which had a spiked bone head surrounded by cutters and securely attached to a wooden handle. The spike went into the hollow stem and, when drawn downwards, divided the straw into even strips. A knife had been traditionally used to prepare the straws but the 'engine' made the task easier. Some cutters offered a choice of splint sizes. The plaiter would hold a bundle of damp, prepared straws under her left armpit and as she worked she would bend her head and pull out the new splints, moistening and working them round with her tongue to keep them pliable. This would often cause scarring at the right-hand corner of her mouth, as a result of removing the splints. Theresulting split straws were plaited into lengths wheich were then flattened out and wound round an eighteen-inch measuring-board and taken to the village depot to be collected by the hat manufacturers of Luton and Dunstable

The Marquis was successful. By 1806, the parish of Gosfield, with a population of 453, had earned the huge sum of £1,700 in a single year. The work could be done at home, and the women could do the plaiting and run their homes as well. The children were taught from an early age to help with the process. The straw-plaiting spread from Gosfield to the surrounding area until the whole of North Essex was engaged in the work. In 1850, the local paper reported "In the surrounding district an enormous amount of straw plaiting is carried on there is scarcely a cottage in the district where it is not exercised. Until this last 3 months trade has been slack but there is now a growing demand for it, many merchants from Luton I am informed are in the habit of coming to Castle Hedingham to purchase the straw plait. The best kind of makers get 3s 6d a score and a good hand can make a score and a half a week, for inferior kind of work pay varies from 3d to 10d and 1s a score. The earnings of children and girls may be taken as 3d to 6d a day, these are employed on coarser work, the straw is usually purchased from a local farmer at 6d a bundle which being in quantity as much as a person can carry. The rate of pay for a farm labourer in this district is wretchedly low 6s to 7s a week and were it not for straw plaiting they would be in the worst possible position than now. When plaiting is depressed a considerable amount of work is done for the cheap tailors of Colchester and London who send the different articles to Castle Hedingham and other places in the district to have them made up".

Arthur Young in his General View of the Agriculture of Hertfordshire (1804) wrote‘The farmers complain of it as doing mischief for it makes the poor saucy and no servants can be procured or any field work done where this manufacture establishes itself.’ But he added that 'good earnings are a most happy circumstance, which I wish to see universal’, again emphasising that ‘straw plaiting is of very great use to the poor and has had considerable effect in keeping down rates, which must be far more burthensome without it.’
By 1871, there were nearly four thousand people engaged in the work

Several things happened that caused the decline of the craft. Cheap imports, mechanisation, changes in fashion, and the discouragement of the use of child labour (children tended to be excellent at plaiting). The collapse of the Straw-plaiting industry was sudden and caused much suffering to the northern parishes of Essex which had little else to offer in the way of employment. By 1900, there was not a single straw-plaiter left.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Rights of Way and Lost Ways

The County Records Offices, or County Archives, are threatened with the loss of important documents, possibly for ever. Documents do not always 'belong' to the county archive. Often they have been lent by their owners. This is true of most parish records, but we also rely on the goodwill of landowners and property owners for many valuable documents, such as Tithe award maps and schedules, 1910 Finance Act maps and valuation books, Estate plans, deeds, sales and auction particulars, and estate or farm book-keeping records

The Govermnent, in Countyside and Rights of Way act 2000, has undertaken to revise the 1949 definitive footpath map, using these and other records. Generous landowners who have lodged their historic documents with the county records office may, in consequence, find extra footpaths through their land, and the suggestion is being made in some places that they should withdraw them as a precaution. Currently, a pilot project, called 'Discovering Lost Ways' is trawling through the County Records Offices in Cheshire and Wiltshire for footpaths that may have slipped through being included onto the definitive map.

We realise from local experience round here that the job of drawing up the definitve footpath map in 1948 was botched and skimped. There are several footpaths clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey maps, and remembered by local people, that aren't on the map.

If the owners of historic documents are likely to feel sufficiently threatened to withdraw their documents, then, where possible, these can be copied before returning them. However, the terms of the original deposit agreement may prevent a copy being made.

Even the moderate CLA is advising its members "If members are concerned that the records they have deposited could disadvantage them with a Rights of Way claim, then they should consider the removal of these documents from public view providing that the terms of agreement with the archive office allow". This is chilling stuff, as the local historians absolutely depoend on access to such documents. Some unscrupulous landowners may even make doubly sure that their old documents could not be used against their interests by putting them through the shredder.

However much ones sympathies lie with those who wish to ensure the continuation of historic rights of way wherever possible, one cannot help wondering if the method of sifting through the county records offices to try to establish more footpaths may result in the disappearance for ever of a lot of estate records, and will ensure that a lot more documents that have never so far been placed in the county records office, will never ever be so placed. Any landowner considering handing over his historic documents will hardly be encouraged by the government's plans to attempt to use archived documents against the interest of the donors or owners.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Who? Where? Why?

The 'Development' of East Anglia has been the most frightening thing for those of us who have lived through some of the changes. Braintree is, at the moment, the most rapidly developing town in the UK, despite the poor infrastructure. Prescott, together with his London mandarins, is currently plotting a staggering increase in the urbanisation around Stanstead, the M11 and poor Sudbury. This is being done despite all three established tiers of local government being opposed to it. I've been reading with a growing sense of wistfulness, the account of the peasants' revolt which started around here out of a frustration with govenments' tampering with ancient rights. At least they had a pretty good idea who to skewer with their pitchforks.

Those of us who are concerned with conservation, and the retention of the region as a distinct part of Britain, are fighting a losing battle with a remote government intent on exploiting what is here against the clearly-expressed wishes of the local population. In fact, it is difficult to find any local elected representitive who can say any word in favour of what is being planned. This is being imposed unwillingly on the region by a remote urban Government who are using the insidious, and historically unique, device of by-passing the traditional layers of government of County, District and Parish councils by setting up unelected bodies with little public accountability to push through these unpopular measures

It turns out that the decision to urbanise East Anglia has been taken by a government organisation called 'GO-East. This is a quango that is supposed to promote government policy and ensure that local issues are represented to the minister. It guides regional planning and housing laws and has set up several 'forums' to cover the 'environment', rural affairs and what is euphamistically called 'sustainable development'. These 'Forums' cook up policy initiatives which are then sent to GO-East for approval. There is also the EERA (the Eastern Englan Regional Assembly). You didn't realise you'd voted for a regional assembly did you? Well you haven't. This is supposed to be the representitive voice of the region with seventy members chosen from local govenment and from what, in the bizzare Blairite jargon is called the 'Community Stakeholders'.

Just in case there is anyone who is still following this, I have to mention the EEDA. This is the East of England Development Agency. The EEDA is another quango, appointed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Their fifteen members are supposedly appointed from business, local government, the voluntary sector, trades unions and education. This uango has spawned seven more quangos, called, rather cutely, 'parnerships'. The EEDA seems to have a wide brief that includes Agriculture, food-processing, tourism, leisure, heritage, and in forming a 'Regional Economic Strategy'. Of course, there is also the EU, who have their own organisations intent on planning the future of East Anglia

What has all this got to do with Local History? The local historian records change and is, in many cases, the guardian of the local culture, desperately recording the heritage as it disappears. He is the recorder of what is beautiful in the region as it is destroyed, scrabbling around building sites checking for the archaeological record before it can be removed by impatient developers, and reminding local people of what is being being lost in the quality of their lives. He, or she, can also take lessons from history, and warn of the consequences of actions taken as short-term pragmatic expediency. We are like the bad-tempered prophets of the Old Testament, shaking our fists, cursing the times we live in, prophesying dooom, and bewailing the abandonment of the Law and ancient rights.