Reports of Meetings at Chelmsford


July 2019 Morning session
The Witch Craze in Essex in the 16th and 17th centuries
by Christopher Thompson
Christopher opened his lecture, with the fact that hundreds of accusations of witchcraft had been made in Essex. Witchcraft was often portrayed in old woodcuts of witches and their 'familiars', and later in the 20th century, by Vincent Price the actor, playing Matthew Hopkins, the infamous 'Witch-finder General' of the 1640's, on film.

It appears that, particularly older women, came to be accused of witchcraft, and that this was often due to their lack of status. In the 16th and 17th centuries there was little or no social care, and since women generally live slightly longer than men, and that men were the main breadwinners, the death of her husband would often leave a working class woman destitute. Usually, their only other source of assistance, would be from their community.

Before the Reformation the Roman Catholic faith promoted acts of charity, but after the Reformation this was discouraged. Where a desperate woman requested help from their neighbour and this was refused, the woman may become so distraught that she might become angry, and so, curse her neighbour. If something unfortunate then happened to that neighbour, or their family, it would be assumed to have occurred as a result of the curse, and the woman could be accused of witchcraft.

Cases would be heard by Church of England Courts, mainly up until the 1540's and later at Quarter Sessions or Assize Courts.

The first wave of accusations in Essex occurred in the late 16th century. Agnes Waterhouse was the first person to be hanged for witchcraft in the UK at Chelmsford in 1566 and she is remembered today in the road name, Waterhouse Lane, in Chelmsford.

In 1572 Alice Chaundler of Maldon was accused of 'bewitching to death' 5 members of the same family. She was found guilty, at Chelmsford, and hanged. Just 5 years later, Alice's daughter Ellen Smythe was also accused of causing the death of a child by witchcraft, and she was also hanged.

By 1640 when Puritanism had helped to diminish the power of the Roman Catholic Church, and most people were less likely to be charitable to others, the number of accusations in Essex increased to over 700 in just one year! Thankfully many accused were acquitted.

In 1645 Ellen Clarke, of Manningtree, was accused. After 'examination' by Matthew Hopkins, which would have included torture, in modern terms, she admitted having sex with the devil, and keeping a dog, a ferret and a toad, as her familiars. She was also hanged at Chelmsford.

The last executions for witchcraft in England are believed to have taken place in Huntingdon in 1716, and in 1735. The Witchcraft Act deemed that it was no longer a criminal offence, however popular belief lived on for many years.

This was a light hearted but stimulating presentation on an interesting and quite scary subject!
Andrea Hewitt (ESFH 6398)
July 2019 Afternoon session
The Victorian House
by Ann Wise
Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 to 1901 during which time great social and technological changes took place in the United Kingdom. Ann started her lecture by describing the attitudes towards housing before the start of Victoria's reign and how the industrial revolution, which had been underway for almost 80 years prior, laid the foundations for the urban expansion of major towns during her reign.

Simultaneously a new class of people emerged, the middle classes (which itself was subdivided) who in the hierarchy of society were between the working class poor of the rural areas and the aristocracy who owned country estates and town houses. This new class of society included people with occupations such as shopkeepers, clerks, government and business workers, owners of factories, lawyers etc. They extolled the virtue of family life and desired homes which proclaimed to the world their new status and social position.

Ann went on to describe the typical features found inside a Victorian home and talked us through the proliferation of key decorative items including tiles, wallpaper, carpets, curtains, and fireplaces that were "must haves" for the Victorian house. The desire by the nouveaux riches to enhance their homes led to the demand for new products and services. For a more detailed explanation of Ann's entertaining presentation please see her feature article in the next edition of The Essex Family Historian to be published at the beginning of December 2019.
Colleen Devenish (ESFH 6279)
June 2019 Morning session
Bishopsgate Institute and its Collections
by Stefan Dicker, Special Collections and Archives Manager
Stefan has presented to ESFH audiences before and has worked for the Bishopsgate Institute situated at 230 Bishopsgate, London EC2 for many years. He was the ideal person to introduce the organisation and its collections to the large audience that attended the June morning meeting.

He told us about the original aims of the Institute, founded in 1894, which was to bring knowledge to people living and working in the City of London. The Institute did this by providing a public library, public hall and meeting rooms. In the early days the organisation was financed by using funds from charitable endowments made to the parish of St Botolph without Bishopsgate over a 500 year period. Between 1897 and 1941 the librarian was Charles William Frederick Goss (1864 - 1946) who was largely responsible for building the collections of the Institute books and was a keen active local historian.

Today the Institute runs courses for adults, holds special events and has a library with books and an archive collection covering a wide variety of subjects which is particularly strong in the areas of social and political history, protest and campaigning.

This independent library is free to visit. Subject guides to the library's main collections can be downloaded from their website and the Institute has a presence on the social media sites Facebook and Twitter. Their website has a searchable online catalogue and digitized images of many of the most popular archival items including the publication, My Apprenticeship to Crime, an autobiography of Arthur Harding, a long time East End criminal.

Stefan illustrated his talk throughout and spoke about some of the special collections they hold like the unique collection of printed London guidebooks and ephemera relating to the Bishopsgate and Spitalfields areas. An ongoing project is the Great Diary Project which rescues, archives, and makes publicly available, a collection of more than 9000 unpublished diaries.
Colleen Devenish (ESFH 6279)
June 2019 Afternoon session
The Rise and Fall of Colchester's Good-Time Girls
by Jane Pearson
Dr Jane Pearson is the co-author of a book entitled "Prostitution in Victorian Colchester - Controlling the Uncontrollable" published in 2018 which was reviewed in the March 2019 edition of this magazine. Her lecture comprised of detailing some of the background information collected when she researched her book. Her research sources included census returns, information obtained from local newspapers, coroners', military, medical, social, and workhouse records and demographic data. As a result of all her research she has created a substantial database of names and places.

Jane went on to explain that Colchester's total Victorian population included a substantial number of army personnel from the local garrison which had greatly expanded in 1855. As of the 1860's, thousands of unmarried soldiers were adding to the problems of the town. Soldiers were not allowed to marry unless they had the permission of their commanding officer as the army would not take any responsibility for wives and children.

The requirements of the local military camp had a growth effect on local businesses as they supplied the needs of the officers and men. A number of unmarried soldiers lived in the barracks in the south of the town and this resulted in an opportunity for poor women, often drawn by desperate circumstances, to earn money as prostitutes.

There is at least one recorded event where several clergymen demanded the withholding of the granting of public house licences until the authorities had investigated the publicans who seemed to benefit from the prostitution trade.

Jane detailed the workings of the Colchester Lock Hospital. The government authorities, recognizing that Colchester was a garrison town, named it as one of the places to implement the 3rd Contagious Disease Act of 1869. This Act of Parliament sought to limit the spread of venereal disease by arresting women found within a certain radius of a garrison area. Once arrested they were taken to be physically examined to see whether they had a sexually transmitted infection. If so, compulsory treatment followed by being locked up in a hospital until cured. Some prostitutes volunteered to be examined therefore semi legalising their trade. If charged, records show that not all the women were subservient and some retaliated by verbally abusing court officials.

Jane's research gave us all a good understanding of Colchester's good-time girls.
Colleen Devenish (ESFH 6279)
May 2019 Morning session
Using Jewish Records for Non-Jewish Genealogy
by Jeanette Rosenberg OBE
Jeanette explained that from 1066-1290 many Jewish people came to settle in the UK, however, around 1290 they were expelled as a result of the Edict of Expulsion, a royal decree issued by King Edward I. Some managed to stay on. When Cromwell took power in 1651, Jews were freely allowed into Britain again. In the 1800's, following prejudice and maltreatment in many countries, once again many Jews sought new lives in the UK and other countries like the USA, Canada and France.

To be married in the Jewish faith both parties must already be Jewish, so if a Jewish person wanted to be married in their synagogue to a non-Jew that person would have to take up the faith.

There were so many immigrants arriving in cities like London, that many who are unaware of a Jewish link in their family may have a relative who took up the Jewish faith in order to marry, and if this is this case, Jewish records, which tend to be quite detailed, may be a source of very useful information to the family historian.

Jeanette suggested the best place to search first would be and that there are many regional groups, one being based at Southend-on-Sea. Jewishgen is free to use and provides search facilities by surname, a town index (very useful as town names frequently were changed during periods of war and pogroms) and a holocaust database etc. The family finder allows you to search surnames by fuzzy/fuzzier/fuzziest selections which is helpful as many Jewish names are misspelt, or are Anglicised. There are also family trees, and a Communities Database giving information on many towns with Jewish populations, across Europe and Russia.

Jeanette's own website has a huge list of websites and information, some which may be particularly relevant to family historians. Here, one can also download a handout of the talk she presented at our meeting under the title "Using Jewish Records for Non-Jewish Genealogy"
A very informative and enlightening talk.
Andrea Hewitt (ESFH 6398)
May 2019 Afternoon session
London Peculiar
by Charlie Mead
Charlie gave us an excellent presentation complete with slide show about some of the many things in London which you could easily miss, also telling us about the history behind them. Below are Charlie's comments on three of them:

"Giro, a true companion! London, February 1934, Hoesch".
Giro was the beloved dog of Leopold von Hoesch, the German Ambassador in London from 1932-36. Some sources state that Giro was a German Shepherd dog, others a terrier. Of the two, terrier, seems to be the more likely. The Ambassador's residence was at 9 Carlton House Terrace, now home to the Royal Society, but in the 1930s it was the German Embassy. One day Giro was playing in the embassy grounds when it came into contact with a live electricity cable. Zap! The poor mutt was no more. Claims that the dog received a full Nazi burial are most unlikely as von Hoesch was openly opposed to the Third Reich. Sadly, when von Hoesch died from a heart attack just two years later, unlike his dog, he was given a full Nazi-style send off.

In 1995, to celebrate the area's history and cultural diversity, 25 cast iron roundels, with 20 different patterns, were set into pavements around Spitalfields East London. The artist, Keith Bowler, who has lived in the area for many years, designed them and had them cast locally. In 2006, after 11 years had elapsed, a search was made to find them and see how many remained. Only 12 of the 25 were found. The roundel in Puma Court depicts children's toys - a whipping top and marbles - it marks the site of a children's play area. The roundel outside the Health Centre in Brick Lane depicts henna hand decoration, reflecting the Bengali community in the area. Outside Christ Church School the roundel depicts a schoolboy and girl with an exercise book and pencils.

Clayton Street runs alongside the giant gas holders next to Kennington Oval. The railings were installed after World War II to replace those requisitioned for the war effort. These post-war replacements illustrate the "make do and mend" attitude of post-war austerity. They are made from surplus ARP (air raid precaution) stretchers. These are now but a few of the austerity railings still remaining, such as those outside Kilner House.

A very interesting and informative talk.
Meryl Rawlings (ESFH 6639)
April 2019 Morning session
Essex Archives on Line - the Essex Record Office
by Ian Boreham
The Essex Record Office (ERO) building holds thousands of documents of great value to family historians researching Essex connections so it is important for members to become familiar with the ERO online database - Essex Archives Online.

All ERO records can be accessed free of charge by visitors to the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. For those unable to visit the archive their catalogue can be SEARCHED remotely however to gain further functionality a user has to register or purchase a subscription. The subscription can be daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. For detailed information please see .

Ian Boreham , who is the ESFH Archivist, gave an in-depth illustrated overview of various aspects of the Essex Archives Online database using as an example Charles Clerke, who was a Captain in the Royal Navy, and who died attempting a fourth voyage around the world with Captain James Cook.

He demonstrated how to search for a subject and rationalise the results. Catalogue searches may bring up graphical images which can be seen only as a small image however to view a larger image, in most instances, a subscription is needed. He showed us how to save the image to our own computer using Microsoft Windows Notepad (found under Windows Accessories) and how you could use the nomenclature of the ERO document in a file name. He emphasised the importance of having an organised file structure on your own computer.

When Ian presented the Essex Archives Home page (which has the Document reference and Search box on the top right hand side) he indicated, by scrolling down to the bottom of the page, a heading entitled User Guides which can be seen on the left hand side of the screen. These guides cover the topics researching family history, house history, classic vehicle history and using electoral rolls. Under the heading User Guides at the very top of the page there is also a User Guide on understanding Parish Records.

At the bottom of the same page Ian explained the functionality of the orange, turquoise, red and blue icons. The orange "cloud" button allows access to the FREE Essex Sound and Video Archive and, by downloading a free software product called SoundCloud as instructed, you can listen to recordings of individuals talking about many aspects of past Essex life. The turquoise button takes you to their Twitter feed, the red to YouTube and the blue to their Facebook page. There is also a strapline "Read our blog" which when hit enables you to read the ERO blog site and subscribe free of charge to receive regular blogs.

Ian explained that documents could be ordered in advance of a visit or when you arrived at ERO. For details regarding visiting ERO please see
Colleen Devenish (ESFH 6279)
April 2019 Afternoon session
The Women Who Crewed the Narrow Boats during WW2
by Denis Padfield
Denis introduced his presentation by explaining the history of how, before the outbreak of the Second World War, narrow boats and barges had been manned largely by families.
Their life style was unique as they worked and lived on their boats and thus they developed a canal "culture" as they travelled up and down the waterways delivering bulk commodities like coal, grain, cement etc. Often their barges and narrow boats were drawn by horses along the tow paths. In Essex we had the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Canal which ran from Springfield Wharf in Chelmsford to Heybridge Basin a total of 13.75 miles.

Many of us are familiar with the term Land Girls, women who worked the land during WW1 and WW2, but how many of us realised that approximately 45 women aged 18-35 worked on the canals and waterways during the years 1943-1946 manning the narrow boats. Given the nickname "Idle Women" after a book by Susan Woolfit printed in the 1940s, the nickname was a play on the letters IW which were the initials of the Inland Waterways which appeared on badges they wore.

During the Second World War in the UK there were approximately 3500 miles of navigable waterways much of which connected large towns and, luckily for the narrow boat crews, were not targets for Hitler's bombs. The intrepid women who volunteered for this type of work had to be very fit and healthy and would have to get used to zero home comforts. They volunteered from all social backgrounds and took a six week training course before being allowed to man the crafts and receiving pay of £3 per week for crewing.

In addition to controlling two vessels - an average narrow boat was approximately 72 feet long which had attached to it by rope a smaller craft called a butty (unpowered) behind, the three women crew would have had to handle the opening and closing of lock gates and, when required, to "walk" the boats through dark tunnels. This involved lying on ones back and walking along the inside brickwork of an unlit tunnel propelling the craft. The combined carrying volume of the main vessel and the butty could be approximately 70 tonnes of cargo which had to be loaded and unloaded at the required destinations. Once the two vessels were fully loaded they floated only 4 inches above the water line.

Denis mentioned the names of several of the women who volunteered and so contributed to the war effort by taking up this strenuous unusual work, including Miss Daphne March and her mother Margaret, Daphne French, Kitty Gayford, Evelyn Hunt, Audrey "Steerer" Harper and Anne Blake.

Further reading and photographs regarding these women can be found on the Canal and River Trust website where you can find information about visiting all UK canals. There is a canal museum in London
Colleen Devenish (ESFH 6237)
March 2019 Morning session
The British in India by Peter Bailey
by Peter Bailey
Peter Bailey is the President of the Families in British India Society and gave us a very detailed introduction to the sources for research. His Society has a website which is a must-view for any reader interested in this subject. Here are the main points of his presentation:-

Most biographical data on European residents of British India & South Asia (1600-1947) are lodged in the India Office Records at the British Library
Most official early records of British India relate to the East India Company and government employees (Traders, Civil Servants, Military, Maritime)
Non-government employees required recorded authority from the East India Company to travel and work in India (1660 to 1858)
The significant records of Baptism, Marriage and Burial are currently being made available on line by the Church of Latter Day Saints at
The Families in British India Society organisation (FIBIS) is transcribing as many additional records as possible to enable researches to obtain data.
FIBIS is also controlling the build-up of their 'FibiWiki' for researchers to understand the background to the lives led by their ancestors in British India.
In addition to the above mentioned websites current major sources on line are:-       (highlight, then right-click then 'Go to')

Relevant literature includes:-
Biographical Sources in the India Office Records by Ian A Baxter
Researching Ancestors in the East India Company Armies by Peter Bailey
British Ships in India Waters: Their Owners, Crew and Passengers by Richard Morgan
Researching Ancestors in the Indian Army 1861-1947 by Peter Bailey
Colleen Devenish (ESFH 6279)
March 2019 Afternoon session
Changing Face of Basildon Borough over the last 150 years
by Ken Porter
Ken Porter, a local author and member of the Basildon Heritage Society is a native of Basildon. He started his presentation by quoting from Arthur Young (agriculturist 1741-1820) reminding us that several hundred years ago Basildon and the surrounding countryside had been a land of wheat, sheep and marshes.

The population of Basildon in the 1881 Census was 157 people. Similarly, the surrounding villages of Langdon Hills, Pitsea, Vange, Lea Chapel and Laindon had very few residents, consisting of populations of 231, 266, 272, 3 and 233 respectively.

Following a combination of poor harvests, imports of American grain, and the lack of investment in improving the poor quality of the South Essex heavy clay, eventually many farmers gave up working the soil and it was sold off cheaply for building land. The opening of the direct rail link between Fenchurch Street and Shoeburyness in 1888 and social changes that allowed Londoners more leisure, resulted in many visiting the Essex countryside for the first time.

From the 1880s land speculators, including Frederick Francis Ramuz (Mayor of Southend on Sea 1898-1900), started auctioning off large tracts of poor agricultural land, divided into small plots, and later known as "plotlands" to the people in East London. The plots were snapped up at between £5 and £10 each. Further speculators, including London-based land developers, local developers like Harry Foulger and Thomas Helmore at Laindon, James Humm and Robert Varty at Vange and Pitsea, sold plots of land to hordes of ordinary London folk. As the area had a lack of local authority controls the buyers erected all types of buildings for their weekend retreats and eventually many moved to live permanently in these areas.

In 1931 the population of Laindon had increased to 4552, and Lea Chapel to 3002.

By the mid-1930s this haphazard development was causing concern for the Billericay Urban District Council whose problems were compounded during and after WW2 by further people fleeing from their bombed-out London environments and settling in the area. A wide range of facilities including made-up roads, drainage, lighting and sewerage were absent. Unable to finance the restructure of the area Billericay Urban District Council schemed with Essex County Council to persuade the Government to designate the area as a "New Town" hence using the resources of central government to clear the area and create a place called Basildon New Town, located between the existing towns of Laindon and Pitsea.

The Basildon Development Corporation was born and therein lies another story.
Colleen Devenish (ESFH 6279)
February 2019 Afternoon session
Fighting the Authorities and the 60's Social Revolution
by Alan Goldsmith
Alan explained that he grew up in the 1940s and his teenage years were spent just over the Essex border in Bishops Stortford Hertfordshire.

He started his talk by comparing his teenage years of the 1940s and 50s in England with that of teenagers growing up in the 1960s. He felt his generation had been the last to be brought up to be obsequious and servile. By the late 1960's England had experienced a social revolution resulting in young people becoming less constrained and able to enjoy 'pop music', liberalised sex, the joys of alcohol and in some cases (but not many) drug-taking.

After trying several jobs at the age of 18 he started in the music profession by managing a local band and after a few years he became a pop music promoter putting on concerts mainly in Braintree, Great Dunmow and surrounding districts.

He regaled us with many anecdotes of the 'celebrities' he had promoted, including Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Dionne Warwick and the Southend band, Procol Harum, to name but a few. He wrote about his life in a book entitled "Giving it Both Barrels" published in 2003 and which is still available. He progressed to the staging of events like music festivals at stately homes and air shows.

In 1968/9 he bought approximately 15 acres of land which had a small piece of an ancient wall on it. Evidently this was from the remains of Stansted Mountfitchet Castle. His dream was to build a medieval wooden fort on the site and open it to visitors. He then began a five-year fight with the local authorities before opening an authentic looking Norman wooden castle as a tourist attraction. The attraction is still open for part of the year and has attracted thousands of visitors over the subsequent decades. Details can be found at

Alan was a very entertaining and able speaker although I did feel his talk would have been enhanced by the use of some photographs.
Colleen Devenish (ESFH 6279)
February 2019 Morning session
Quality Perfect, Prices Lower
by Allison Foster - Sainsbury Archivist
For details of this presentation please see the August 2019 edition of The Essex Family Historian.
January 2019 Afternoon session
Historic Timber Framing - A Medieval Carpenters Art
by John Walker
John is a member of the Essex Historic Building Group and shared his extensive expertise, with examples of timber framed buildings from Essex, and Suffolk.

He explained the production of wattle and daub, and showed us how timber was cut, to be shaped by axe. It would take over 300 oak trees to build one farm house, and 50 acres of woodland could produce enough wood to construct one farm house every 6 years. Four carpenters would take about 6 months to build the structure, and they were so rightly proud of their work that they often left their personal marks on show within the building.

From the 15th century "jettied" houses and shops became popular, where the first floor protruded over the ground floor by 2-3 feet, much of the supporting timbers for this would be exposed and highly decorated. By the 17th century this style became unfashionable and many such buildings were given brick facades, with Georgian styles windows and doors. We were shown examples of Essex timber framed buildings like Fyfield Hall Fyfield, Harlowbury Manor Harlow, and Cann Hall Clacton. These types of building can also be found in East Street Coggeshall, and Bridge Street Writtle.

John finished his informative talk by suggesting that anyone requiring more information should contact the Essex Historic Building Group via their website
Andrea Hewitt (ESFH 6398)

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