Colchester reports


September 2019 - A.G.M. followed by Computer Problems with David Cooper

This meeting was our A.G.M. The committee was re-elected en bloc, with one alteration which is that Gill Peregrine and David Cooper have swapped roles.

So Pauline Adlem is Chairman, Paul Stirland is Treasurer, David Cooper is Secretary, Roger Stirland is Librarian, Gill Peregrine is Registrar, David Eniffer and Christine Chatfield are committee members.

After a cup of tea, David Cooper talked to us about computer problems, answering questions from the members. He talked about using wild cards in order to find surname variants; also the need to back up your work. There is nothing worse than working all day and finding that you have lost it.

Roger Stirland suggested a useful programme called ‘Parish Locator,’. The program will show you the parishes around the one you are working on, very useful if you don’t know the area. It can be downloaded from

We all enjoyed an interesting afternoon.
Gill Peregrine

July 2019 - Genealogical Question TIme

Owing to the holidays and various sporting events we were a small gathering this month. However we were still able to involve ourselves in some interesting and diverse questions.

The first being trying to work out what relationship were cousins to each other when they had great, great, grandparents in common. This became very mathematical but Paul was able to give them the answer.

Next we were looking for information on Wakes House. Our member Judy has a relation who had worked there. It was hard to find information. Judy had looked on the Essex Record Office database but found very little. What she needed were staff records however there seems to be none.

The next question amused us all, “how do you find people who have disappeared?” This provoked a great deal of discussion, and several suggestions also it had Paul and David looking on various web sites for the said person, but to no avail. Some people just do not want to found!

David suggested that we try the Microsoft web search engine Bing ( instead of Google search. He said he had found it to be more useful.

Although a small group we had had an interesting afternoon.
Gill Peregrine

June 2019 - Visit to The East Anglian Museum of Rural Life at Stowmarket

On a very wet Saturday morning 10 brave souls met at the entrance to the museum. We were given a short talk [in the oldest barn in the area] about the history of the museum and the family who lived there originally. This was important as it meant that the photos and displays had more meaning.

As it was still raining and was by then 11:45, we decided to have lunch first. We went to the cafe which was excellent. We were given a large table for us all. There was plenty of choice on the menu. We all had a good lunch, deciding that we probably wouldn’t need anything else that day!

By the time we had finished lunch the rain had eased. We divided into small groups to go round a large site. John my husband and I began by visiting the ‘Big house’. This was laid out as if it was being lived in. There were also photos of the family around the walls and some personal items on show. In the dining room the table was laid for about 12 guests. By the fireplace on an easel was the menu. I think it was five courses, all had meat or fish or both. It was a meal far too big for any of us today. And at the bottom there were for those still hungry desserts and ices!

After the house we went to look at the outside exhibits. There we found some Gypsy caravans old and new, we were only able to view them from outside but still very interesting. Then much to John’s delight we found a steam traction engine and quite a few similar farm vehicles.

We then explored more of the wider site and found a ‘Tin’ Chapel. This was made of corrugated iron and would have been delivered ‘flat pack’ for the parishioners to build. There was also a water mill and a wind mill, the latter being renovated.

By then it was just after 3:00pm so returned to the cafe to meet the others and have a cup of tea before driving home. However the cafe was closed. The notice on the door said it shouldn’t be but it was!

We decided to see if there was a cafe in the shopping centre opposite the museum, So five of us ended the afternoon with a cup of tea at Costa.

In spite of the rain we had all had a very enjoyable day. Typical of this country we drove home in brilliant sunshine!!
Gill Peregrine

May 2019 - Churchill’s Secret Army or The Stay Behinds by Dr Hugh G. Frostick.

What was Churchill’s secret army? They were a group of men set up between 1940 - 1944. Their purpose was sabotage, in the case of an invasion. They were to let the invasion army pass and then follow to create as much mayhem as possible. These men were made up of local farmers and landowners. It was essential that they knew the lie of the land, they had to be able to cross the terrain in the dark.

The headquarters were in Coleshill House near the Wiltshire town of Highworth. The bases that the men used were mainly scattered across Essex and Kent, with a few in the North East.

They were trained in unorthodox warfare, as a resistance group. Unlike the Home Guard they were provided with plenty of weapons. They also had a local base to store their guns and ammunition and in which they could hide. These hideouts were all underground, dug into banks, gravel pits and hillsides. They were small with a main room and another with bunks. They also had one or two escape tunnels.

They did have trouble from the Home Guard who thought that these men were not pulling their weight as far as the war was concerned. So the men were given a uniform, this seemed to solve the problem. They were disbanded in 1944, and were fortunately never needed.

There is an example of one of these bases at Parham Airfield Museum and also at The British Resistance Museum which has a web site

The National Archives has the records for the men involved in this project.

This was a really interesting talk about a subject that few of us knew anything about. Hugh is still looking for family members who have relatives who worked in the group.
Gill Peregrine

April 2019 - Sidetracked by Meryl Catty

Who has not been sidetracked while researching? It only takes an interesting piece of information or an intriguing incident to take you down a path you didn’t intend. This was the theme of Meryl’s talk.

She related some of the things she had found in newspapers, for instance, murders, court cases, accidents. She then moved on to Parish Records. Here it was comments from various vicars about the people he had baptised, married or buried. She also told us of some of the extraordinary names that people had given their children. It made one wonder how it had affected their lives. Census returns sometimes revealed that people were not where they should be or with those one expected them to be with.

At other times the information was as simple as the weather and its effects on the population. Sometimes the events could be country wide or worldwide.

This was an interesting talk which held everyone’s interest.
Gill Peregrine

March 2019 - The Gentile Class of Colchester and their homes by Patrick Denny

This was a most fascinating talk. Patrick showed us how the Georgians changed their timber framed houses to suit the new tastes. They built a brick front on to the houses; you can see this if you look at the side view. They also added new windows and a striking front door.

The early windows were flush with the walls with the sash boxes showing. Later they set the windows one brick back and hid the sash boxes. From this you can guess the age of the front.

Patrick showed us the different styles of doors and “door cases”. These were specific to each person; if you look around Colchester you will see that no two doors are the same in these old Georgian houses.

We focused on a few of the houses on East Hill, 9 and10 East Hill, Greyfriars, East Hill House and Hollytrees. All these houses during the 1700’s had enormous grounds. They would have a terrace at the back with a summer house at the end so that there was somewhere to walk to after dinner! There is still one of these at the back of the Minories.

Patrick made the subject extremely interesting. He has published a book about it called ‘The Buildings of Colchester’. We have a copy of this book on the shelf in the library of our research room at the Essex Record Office, along with several other books by Patrick about Colchester.
Gill Peregrine

February 2019 - Cherchez La Femme by Helen Matten

Helen’s talk centred on tracing the female line. This is obviously more complicated than searching for the male line, as there is a name change with each generation. If you are lucky you may already be able to identify three generations back but after that it can be a lot harder.

Now we have the advantage of the mother’s maiden name on all the GRO index birth indexes where it was captured. This is a great help for tracing the marriage and the next generation.

You need to look at the work of the women and their neighbours; sometimes they married the boy next door! Widowed men would remarry quite quickly especially if they had children. This wife could also be a widow herself, which adds further names to be investigated.

During the talk Helen stressed the need for us to write on the back of our photos. If the Victorians had done this, we would not have such a problem identifying our ancestors. It would make our journey so much easier!
Gill Peregrine

January 2019 – Computing for Family History

Our session this month should have been a computer problem session led by David Cooper. However David was unwell. At short notice David Eniffer, very ably assisted by Paul Stirland, was able to offer a presentation on aspects of computing for Family History.

We looked at software for storing your information. One was Family Tree Maker which was used by most of the group. This had been unavailable for a while but was now up and running again.

David also showed us how to start a Microsoft Power Point software presentation and not to be afraid to try things out. Someone then asked what ‘GEDCOM’ was which David explained. After that there was some discussion on different subjects, ‘snipping’ (Windows Snipping Tool) the web search engine ‘Bing’ for photos and the fact Google has a web based product called Google Photos which enables you to share and store your photos.

This was a very useful and interesting session. David and Paul were well thanked for their efforts.
Gill Peregrine

December 2018 – Christmas Social

This month as usual was our Christmas social. Paul and David devised some fiendish quizzes.

One of Paul’s was pictures of famous people connected to Essex and one of David’s was to guess the population of various towns in Essex at the time of the 1851 census. This was multiple choice quiz which should have made it easier. Strangely it didn’t. Some of the answers were quite surprising.

After this we enjoyed a seasonal buffet.
Gill Peregrine

November 2018 - Tales of Mersea Island by Jan Williams

Jan began by mentioning Mehalea, the book by Sabine Baring Gould, who was vicar of East Mersea from 1871-1881. In his book he talks about the flora and fauna of the island, its proximity to the sea and gives a real feeling of the island.

The Strood connecting the Island to the main land was built during the 7th century. There are tales of many people who have experienced the ghost of a Roman Centurion who walks from the public house the Peldon Rose to the Mersea Mound.

This mound was excavated in 1912 and a glass bottle containing ashes was found at the bottom. It was found to be Roman. It was taken from the island but has now been returned and is in the Mersea (

It was the Romans who discovered the oysters which have been a great food source for hundreds of years

There are of course many tales of smugglers and of witchcraft.

Jan ended her talk with two tales. Beauty and the Beast adapted by S Baring Gould and The King of Colchester’s Daughter.

These were delightful and rounded the talk with a very fitting end.
Gill Peregrine

October 2018 - The work of our ancestors

We had booked Meryl Catty for a talk but unfortunately she was unwell.

Three of us from the branch committee decided give a short talk about the work of an ancestor.

I began by telling the group about the “Sir” in my family tree. He is linked to me, as he was married my great grandfather’s brother’s daughter, quite a distant relative but still important. He was Sir Benjamin Charles Stanley Martin.

Vice Admiral Sir Benjamin Charles Stanley Martin KBE Distinguished Service Order (DSO) was a Royal Navy officer who was the first boy from the Royal Naval Hospital School Greenwich to reach flag rank in the Royal Navy. He was also the first officer from the lower deck to become a Rear-Admiral in modern times. He was captain of HMS Dorsetshire which was a heavy cruiser of the County class of the Royal Navy and in 1941 assisted in the operations against the German battleship Bismarck. After intercepting the damaged Bismarck Dorsetshire applied the coup-de-grace with a final torpedo attack which sank the battleship at 11am on May 27. Martin received a DSO for his actions that day.

Pauline then spoke to us about Thomas Maddock who had begun a friendly society in Bristol. He ran the Fox Inn which was where the society held their meetings. He later became a cycle dealer. He invented some parts to improve cycling. His Society became The Oddfellows Friendly Society.

Later she also told us about John Walcott (1754-1831), her 4 times great grandfather, and was very active as a naturalist. He wrote and illustrated several books which are in the British Library. Pauline was able to show us some of his excellent bird illustrations.

David used a presentation that he had but had adapted for today. It was titled “Brother Harry”. He began life as a draper’s apprentice but joined The Shakers in England. He lived for many years in the New Forest in a tent. The group often upset their neighbours as they were ‘different’. The aspect that upset people the most was their trance like dancing. They were moved on and had several different places some they were turned out of, so much so that they were disbanded eventually.

This turned out to be quite an interesting afternoon, so we might do something similar later next year.
Gill Peregrine

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