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 Historical information doesn't really go out of date!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

Monday, August 22, 2005

The lost fisheries of Essex

The collapse and disappearance of the fishing industry has radically changed the appearance of the coast of Essex, as well as the diet of its inhabitants. At the end of the Nineteenth Century, fisheries round the coasts of England continued to be very important, and gave employment to many thousands of people. Those on the east coast were four times more productive than those on the west or the south, mainly because of the banks and shoals of the North Sea, which yielded a consistently large supply of fish. Essex's fisheries, both in the North Sea and in the estuary of the Thames, were important, and the number of fishermen employed in the season was very large.

The Essex fisheries were carried on from fourteen or fifteen stations between Leigh and Harwich. The flat Essex coast was particularly favourable for those species of fish which live in a shallow sea with a bottom of sand and mud.

Firstly there was the North Sea, or deep-sea fishing, in which boats from Brightlingsea were mainly engaged. Secondly, there was off-shore and in-shore fishing, which used to be practised by the fishermen of Harwich, Tollesbury, and West Mersea. Thirdly, there was a flourishing industry of estuarine fishing at Maldon, Southend, and Leigh. Fourthly, there was the shell-fish trade, in which Burnham and Wivenhoe were engaged.

There used to be many methods of catching the fish. For deep-sea fishing, the trawl-net and drift-net were used, although on the Dogger Bank some fish, such as cod, were caught singly on long lines and not with nets. When the fish were caught, the old method was to place them in the well of the boat, where they were kept alive by a constant change of water. The well-boat was thought to have been invented at Harwich in 1712, and that by its means fish were delivered in London in a good, and sometimes almost in a living condition. Since the use of steam-carriers and ice, however, these old well-boats lost their former importance, although at the start of the Twentieth Century they were still used in the Dogger Bank fishery.

The other methods of catching fish around the Essex coasts was by means of shrimp-nets, dredge-nets, kettle-nets, and crab and lobster pots. Kettle, or keddell, fishing was still used to a limited extent off the south-east coast, at Foulness and Shoeburyness, and was employed chiefly for the capture of the various species of flat fish which ware then common in the shallow waters covering the sands at high tide. Kettle-nets were about 110 yards long and four feet high. They wer fixed in position by stakes driven into the ground, and to these the head and ground-ropes used to be fastened. The nets were in the form of the letter V, and were either set singly, or two or more in a line with the apex, which had a kind of purse, pointing away from the shore. As the fish followed the rising tide they passed between the nets, and thus found themselves between these and the shore. As the tide fell they were carried into the purse of the net at the apex. The nets were visited at the ebbing of the tide, and the fish were quickly removed.

Seine-netting was rarely used on the Essex coast, but there used to be a form of trawling for eels on the shores near the mouths of the rivers and on the sand banks of the embouchures. Stow-netting was also carried on extensively, and by its means enormous quantities of sprats used to be captured in a good season. Another method of fishing peculiar to the Essex coast was known as "petering" or " peter-netting." A peter-net was about 120 feet long and 10 feet wide, with corks on the head-rope and leads on the ground rope, and by this means large numbers of codling, mullet, and other fish used to be caught. The oyster-dredge was like a small trawl, but the mouth was made by a rectangle of iron bands, and the net was usually composed of iron rings linked together.

Flounder, dab, plaice, and sole were common, and halibut, turbot, and brill less so. Cod, haddock, and whiting were few, but catches of them were landed at Harwich. The herring was found all round the coast, but there was no special herring fishery, although some were taken in drift-nets in the Blackwater. Sprats were caught in enormous quantities both at the beginning and the end of the year. The importance of sprats is shown by the fact that in Colchester they used to be known as "weavers' beef."

Essex oysters were deservedly famous, and those taken from the beds at Burnham and in the Colne used to fetch a high price. Colchester celebrated the beginning of the oyster season in October by a municipal oyster-feast, and this shell-fish brought a large amount of money to the town. The fishermen of Leigh carried on an active trade in shrimps, for which they trawled in the Thames estuary, and also in cockles, which were prepared for the London market. The "cockling" sheds and the mounds of cockle-shells used to be a familiar sight to all visitors to Leigh.

The Thames had long been poisoned by the discharge of sewage, and that portion of the river belonging to Essex was no longer a salmon river, though it once had been. In the Lea and the Stort, trout, barbel, chub, ruffe or pope, and bleak could be caught, besides better-known fish as perch, pike, and dace. After the Lea, the Colne and the Stour were full of fish. The Cam, in the north-west, had one species, the grayling, which was absent from the other Essex rivers. Whereas the occasional Trout was an artificial introduction, carp, gudgeon, roach, rudd, dace, chub, minnow, and tench were all common, while the salmon, trout, and grayling had almost entirely disappeared due to river pollution in Victorian times.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Essex Industries a Century ago

When the railways came to East Anglia, it made the transport of milk and garden produce to the markets of London vastly quicker and easier. On the other hand some of the Essex industries had been ruined by the coming of the railways. The evaporation of sea-water for its salt, the growth of hops, and the manufacture of cheese had, on the introduction of the railways, collapsed as industries as soon as railways increased the competition from more distant counties.

Until the start of Victorian times, the making of potash from the ashes of burnt weeds, hedge trimmings, and other vegetable matter was one of the oldest and commonest industries of rural Essex. There are many fields and some farms, which by their names record the fact that a potash factory was on their site; and there was, at Radwinter, a country inn known as “The Potash." The place of potash for use in soap-making, clothes-washing, etc., was subsequently taken by soda, and the industry disappeared.

Roman cement was an industry of much importance at Harwich and other coast towns. It was manufactured from septaria, hard stone-like concretions found in the London clay, notably at Harwich and Dovercourt. Roman cement was sometimes known as Parker's cement, from the fact that James Parker patented its manufacturing process in 1796. For more than 50 years after that date between 400 and 500 men were employed in the cement trade at Harwich, supplying about two millions of bushels annually. Roman cement manufacture was extinguished by the introduction of Portland cement, which was then made in the south of the county.

Strawplaiting was carried on in the north of the county, and declined suddenly in late Victorian times. It was introduced at Gosfield in 1790, and as a cottage industry it flourished at Castle Hedingham, Halstead, and Braintree. Calico printing was carried on at Waltham Abbey, and silk was manufactured at West Ham. Copper rolling was one of the industries of Walthamstow, and from 1807 to 1845 the British Copper Company had its works in that town. This fact accounts for the name of one of its roads, which is known as Coppermill Lane.

The chief industry of Essex for several centuries was that connected with the manufacture of woollen goods. There is evidence that wool was manufactured in Essex in Roman and Saxon times, and in the Domesday Book we have many references to sheep and wool. In 1250 we know that the monastic houses of Essex exported wool to Italy, and there was also a great demand for it in Flanders. At the beginning of the fourteenth century some cloth-workers from Bruges landed at Harwich, and settled at Braintree, Halstead, and Dedham. Edward III gave a great impetus to the wool trade by his encouragement of the Flemings to settle in Essex and teach the people the art of weaving. The chief influx of Flemings was in the reign of Elizabeth, and numbers settled in and around Colchester in 1570, and flourished till about 1748. The clothing towns were Colchester, Braintree, Coggeshall, Bocking, Halstead, and Dedham, and we find that about 60,000 families were employed as spinners, weavers, and combers. The fabrics woven by the Flemings were known as “bays” and “ says” and corresponded to what was later called baize and serge. Colchester was famous for the “bay and say” trade, while Bocking was noted for its woollen drugget, or baize, which was also known as “Bockings.”.

By 1900, Romford, Chelmsford, and Colchester were the chief towns engaged in brewing and malting, while the last two and Maldon had some trade in corn-milling. Charcoal-burning was formerly more important than it was then, but it was still, at the turn of the century, an industry of some note at Writtle and Hanningfield. The chalk quarries in the north at Saffron Walden, and in the south at Stifford, Grays, and Purfleet, give employment to many, and large quantities of this material were used in the manufacture of Portland cement.

Gunpowder was made at Waltham Abbey as far back as 1560, and the works became Government property in 1787. The work was, by the 1900s, carried on in 300 separate buildings, which cover 411 acres, and have a water-way of 5 miles. As many as 1200 men were employed, who made annually 2000 tons of cordite, 200 tons of gunpowder, and 150 tons of gun-cotton.

The making of bricks and tiles has been practised in Essex from Roman times, and owing to the abundance of brick earth this industry was one of considerable importance at Hedingham, Ilford, Rainham, Dagenham, Grays, Pitsea, Shoebury, and other places in the south. In 1902, 2136 people were, engaged in brick and tile making.

Soap and candles were largely manufactured at Stratford and Silvertown. Chemicals, such as camphor, quinine, sulphuric acid, tar, creosote, pitch, naphtha, and turpentine were produced in large quantities at Stratford and Uphall, a part of Ilford. The manufacture of photographic plates was carried on at Ilford, where the works were probably the largest in the world at the time; and additional works had been opened at Great Warley. Guttapercha and India-rubber goods were made at Silvertown, named after its founder, Mr Silver; and at the same place there was some sugar-refining.

The manufacture of silk and crape gave employment to 2000 persons at Braintree, Bocking, Halstead, and Earls Colne. The crape made at Braintree was of worldwide fame, and this town had the distinction of making the robe of cloth-of-gold for King Edward VII, and the purple velvet robe for Queen Alexandra, which were worn by them at their coronation. Lace-making was a home industry which employed many cottagers at Coggeshall, Great Tey, Marks Tey, and Chappel.

Ship-building on the Thames was declining in importance, but the Thames Iron Works on the Essex side of Bow Creek employed many hundreds of men in their ship-yards and engineering works. There was some yacht-building at Pitsea, Maldon, and Rowhedge, on the Colne. Chelmsford, Maldon, and Colchester made agricultural implements, and the county town had also electrical engineering works, and was developing a trade for building steam motor-omnibuses. The Great Eastern Railway Company had very extensive works at Stratford, where thousands of men were employed in making steam engines, railway carriages, and other rolling stock. The Xylonite Company's works were at Manningtree and Walthamstow; and the manufacture of explosives was carried on at Kynochtown, in Corringham, and at Stanford le Hope.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Persons of the lowest grade from Kent and Essex

In East Anglia, the peasants revolt of June 1381 is still seen as being a popular revolution against unfair taxation that would have achieved all its aims had it not been for the perfidy of the young King Richard who promised reform and an amnesty if the crowds dispersed, and then broke his solemn promises in a wave of state repression and executions

Contemporary accounts seem biased to a ridiculous extent against the unfortunate 'peasants'. (it was, in fact a popular uprising that a wide range of social classes joined, fuelled by radical politics, and the spiralling taxation of a deeply unpopular government)

The following contemporary account, from the City of London Letter-Book, describes the events of 13-15 June 1381, but with an obviously biassed viewpoint.

Among the most wondrous and hitherto unheard-of prodigies that ever happened in the City of London, that which took place there on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the 13 th day of June, in the 4th year of the reign of King Richard the Second, seems deserving to be committed to writing, that it may not be unknown to those to come.

For on that day, while the King was holding his Council in the Tower of London, countless companies of the commoners and persons of the lowest grade from Kent and Essex suddenly approached the said City, the one body coming to the town of Southwark, and the other to the place called 'Mileende', without Algate.

By the aid also of perfidious commoners within the City, of their own condition, who rose in countless numbers there, they suddenly entered the City together, and, passing straight through it, went to the mansion of Sir John [of Gaunt], Duke of Lancaster, called 'le Savoye', and completely levelled the same with the ground, and burned it. From thence they turned to the Church of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, without Srnethefeld, and burnt and levelled nearly all the houses there, the church excepted.

On the next morning, all the men from Kent and Essex met at the said place called 'Mileende', together with some of perfidious persons of the City aforesaid; whose numbers in all were past reckoning. And there the King came to them from the Tower, accompanied by many knights and esquires, and citizens on horseback, the lady his mother following him also in a chariot. Where, at the prayer of the infuriated rout, our Lord the King granted that they might take those who were traitors against him, and slay them, wheresoever they might be found.

And from thence the King rode to his Wardrobe, which is situate near to Castle Baynard; while the whole of the infuriated rout took its way towards the Tower of London; entering which by force, they dragged forth from it Sir Simon, Archbishop of Canterbury, Chancellor of our Lord the King, and Brother Robert Hales, Prior of the said Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, the King's Treasurer; and, together with them, Brother William Appeltone, of the Order of Friars Minors, and John Leg, Serjeant-at-arms to the King, and also, one Richard Somenour, of the Parish of Stebenhuthe; ail of whom they beheaded in the place called 'Tourhille', without the said Tower; and then carrying their heads through the City upon lances, they set them up on London Bridge, fixing them there on stakes.

Upon the same day there was also no little slaughter within the City, as well of natives as of aliens. Richard Lions, citizen and vintner of the said City, and many others, were beheaded in Chepe. In the Vintry also, there was a very great massacre of Flemings, and in one heap there were lying about forty headless bodies of persons who had been dragged forth from the churches and their houses; and hardly was there a street in the City in which there were not bodies lying of those who had been slain. Some of the houses also in the said City were pulled down, and others in the suburbs destroyed, and some too, burnt.

Such tribulation as this, greater and more horrible than could be believed by those who had not seen it, lasted down to the hour of Vespers on the following day, which was Saturday, the 15th of June; on which day God sent remedy for the same, and His own gracious aid, by the hand of the most renowned man, Sir William Walworthe, the then Mayor; who in Smethefelde, in presence of our Lord the King and those standing by him, lords, knights, esquires, and citizens on horseback, on the one side, and the whole of this infuriated rout on the other, most manfully, by himself, rushed upon the captain of the said multitude, 'Walter Tylere' by name, and, as he was altercating with the King and the nobles, first wounded him in the neck with his sword, and then hurled him from his horse, mortally pierced in the breast; and further, by favour of the divine grace, so defended himself from those who had come with him, both on foot and horseback, that he departed from thence unhurt, and rode on with our Lord the King and his people, towards a field near to the spring that is called 'Whitewellebeche'; in which place, while the whole of the infuriated multitude in warlike manner was making ready against our Lord the King and his people, refusing to treat of peace except on condition that they should first have the head of the said Mayor, the Mayor himself, who had gone into the City at the instance of our Lord the King, in the space of half an hour sent and led forth therefrom so great a force of citizen warriors in aid of our Lord the King, that the whole multitude of madmen was surrounded and hemmed in; and not one of them would have escaped, if our Lord the King had not commended them to be gone.

Therefore our Lord the King returned into the City of London with the greatest of glory and honour, and the whole of this profane multitude in confusion fled forthwith for concealment, in their affright.

For this same deed our Lord the King, beneath his standard, in the field, with his own hands decorated with the order of knighthood the said Mayor, and Sir Nicholas Brembre, and Sir John Phelipot, who had already been Mayors of the said City; as also, Sir Robert Launde.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Black Mass in the Nun's Walk

Harry Price's first account of the supposed haunting of Borley Rectory was published in August 1929. It is mainly culled from the newspaper reports of the Daily Mirror. It is incorrect in most of what it says, for reaons that we do into in depth in 'The Thump Ghosts', 'The Bull Sheet', and 'In the Bedroom with Harry Price'. Suffice it to say here that Harry Price confessed on 29th April 1939 "A) I do not believe in spirits and B) I do not believe in the [Borley Rectory] legend". It is hard to detect this in this ridiculous account. (the 'black mass gliding down the Nun's Walk', was, as they both knew. Mary Pearson, the maid who had come to tell them that supper was ready.)

I am engaged in investigating one of the most extraordinary cases of poltergeist disturbance and alleged haunting that has come under my notice for years. The case was reported to the Daily Mirror by the Rev. G. E. Smith, rector of Borley, near Sudbury, Suffolk, who asked for assistance and advice. The editor of the Mirror asked me if I would investigate the case and I consented.

Borley Rectory is a mansion erected in 1865 on the vaults and cellars of a thirteenth century monastery. The ruins of a nunnery are close by. It has 38 rooms, mostly unused, and stands in wooded grounds nine acres in extent. The legend (current for at least 45 years) is that a groom attached to the monastery attempted to elope with one of the young nuns. The lovers being detected, the groom was hanged and the girl walled up alive in one of the chambers of the nunnery. The apparition of the nun has been witnessed by many people, and on one occasion was seen by four persons at the same time. A phantom coach and pair of bays has also been seen-and heard-by reliable witnesses, including the Rev. Harry Bull, the last incumbent, who died about two years ago.

At an all-night séance, without a medium, and by the light of two good paraffin lamps we held a 3-hours' conversation with the alleged spirit of the late Rev. Harry Bull who tapped out his answers on the back of a large mirror in the bedroom in which he' died. There have been several tragedies, both ancient and modern, connected with the house. We have experienced all the usual typi cal poltergeist manifestations such as the throwing of pebbles and other objects, and on the occasion of my last visit-I was then accompanied by Lord Charles Hope-we received a shower of ten keys which had been extracted from as many doors in various parts of the building. Amongst the keys was a brass Romish medallion, which the rector could not identify. The flight of the keys was accompanied by the ringing of the house bells-apparently of their own volition. On the occasion of our last visit, the few members of the Rev. Smith's household having retired to rest, we assembled in the haunted "blue room" to await events. Lord Charles Hope remarked casually: "If they want to impress us, let them give us a phenomenon now." A few minutes later one of the bells on the ground floor clanged out, the noise reverberating through the house. We rushed downstairs but could not even find the bell that was rung. Experiment proved to us that when any of the house bells were rung (they are the old-fashioned bells on springs, actuated by wires) the spring and clapper did not come to rest for some minutes. But we could not discover the least movement in either spring or clapper, though we think it was the drawing-room bell which had been disturbed.

The most convincing part of the story of the ghosts of Borley Rectory (which I am writing for PSYCHIC RESEARCH) is the mass of first-hand evidence, extending over a period of 45 years, which I have collected from various persons who have either seen or heard the manifestations. During the present investigation the only person who saw anything was Mr. V. C. Wall, of the Daily Mirror, who distinctly saw a black mass gliding down the "Nun's Walk," the path along which the famous nun perambulates during the summer months-and always on July 28th. I was standing by Mr. Wall's side, watching the front of the house, when he tapped me on the shoulder saying he could see something gliding along the path. He dashed across the lawn which separated us from the path but the mass stopped and "melted" (as he expressed it) just as he approached. On cur return to the house we were greeted by the fall of a slab of glass from the roof of a porch. The Rev. G. E. Smith and his wife have now taken a house at Long Melford, 1 ½ miles away, as they simply cannot live in the place any longer.

(Journal of the American Society for Psyvhical Research Aug 1929 pp435 436)

And a few weeks later...

We have not yet had an opportunity of "laying" the ghosts of Borley rectory; on the other hand, the disturbing entities have succeeded in driving out the rector and his wife and the dilapidated mansion is empty once more. Since I wrote my last Notes I have visited the place three times--and on each occasion have witnessed manifestations. But on July 28th the day of the year when the pious nun, headless coachmen and black coach-complete with a fine pair of bays- always appear (according to legend) nothing happened. On the contrary, the mansion (unlike the feeling experienced on other occasions) seemed particularly peaceful-much to the disappointment of Lord Charles Hope, the Hon. Richard Bethell and others of the National Laboratory who visited the house on July 28 and 29. Perhaps now the place is again empty, the haunting spirits are at rest. It is a very extraordinary case.

(Journal of the American Society for Psyvhical Research Sept 1929 pp507)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Viola Mayhew's memories of Pentlow

The following are the memories of Viola Mayhew as told to her daughter, Joy Steward, while making a video of her childhood and life.

Viola was born in 1916 and During her childhood she lived at Paynes cottages, Pentlow. The roads were unmade and she remembered bowling hoops along the uneven tracks. She attended Pentlow school, walking to and from school, also making the same trip home to lunch every day. On Sundays she attended church and after the service the children formed a guard from the church to the gateway to allow the rector, riding in his horse-drawn carriage, to pass through. In passing, each child was obliged to bow/curtsey to him as he rode past. The horses were stabled just opposite the entrance to the church.

Viola's mother, when she was pregnant with Viola, was obliged to attend work parties at the rectory run by the rectors wife. During these work parties, the expectant mothers knitted babies garments which were sent to the poor in London. Being an educated lady she read Shakespeare during these meetings, and suggested to Viola's mother that perhaps her unborn child, if a girl, should be named after one of the twins in Twelth Night. This she dutifully did as she was christened Viola.

Pentlow Tower, she recalled, was built in memory of Rev Bulls wife in 1882. The village had a choice between the tower, a row of cottages or a well dug for drinking water. As the Rector was a very prominent figure in the village at that time, the villagers opted for the tower for fear of upsetting him, even though the alternatives would have benefited everyone.

In Spring the children would walk the fields and lanes picking primroses and violets which were tied in bunches with cotton and sent up to London by train from Cavendish station to be sold on London streets. Song birds were also caught using bird lime spread on bushes and mist nets,these finches were also taken to London and sold to be caged.