Essex Society for Family History

Family History Federation Member

Registered Charity No 290552

Essex Society for Family History

Family History Federation Member

Registered Charity No 290552



12 June 2021

To Relieve Need and Distress' - the story of East Anglian Almshouses
by Sarah Doig

Sarah took us on a journey from medieval times up to the present day with her talk about almshouses. She started by giving us background information as to their origins. They were places for the aged and poor to get help supported by charities. The origins stemmed from medieval monasteries where refugees and travellers were given food and shelter. From then on other places were set up to help people in need, often addressing specific requirements. One example was the Leper Chapel in Cambridge dating from about 1125 set up to help lepers. Then there were the hospitals, as they were called, the name deriving from hostel, looking after people but not treating them as hospitals are known for today. Some examples of those are Bury St Edmunds St Saviour's Hospital which offered support to pilgrims and the Hospital of St Giles in Norwich which offered support for aged priests, poor scholars and sick paupers.

After the English Reformation in the mid16th century it became more common for donors to provide the funds to help people in distress and need. Some examples of those are Henry Tooley who left estates for providing almshouses in Ipswich around 1550 and, a further endowment to the estates by William Smart in 1591, resulted in help for more people outside what parish poor relief could supply. In addition to individuals philanthropic groups also founded almshouses for specific groups of people. The corporation of Great Yarmouth founded the Fisherman's Hospital in 1702 for 20 "decayed fishermen" and their wives over 60 who could no longer provide for themselves. Alfred Wimsey of Colchester left estates to provide 12 almshouses. Today some of these long-standing almshouses are still in existence and run by the trustees of charities overseen by the Charity Commission. Sarah then went on to talk about the architecture of some of the almshouses. Many almshouses were built round a central courtyard. Some were built in terraces and today some have been converted into flats. Almshouse accommodation was mainly one bedroomed for single people however nowadays they cater for couples as well. The charities look after the upkeep of the buildings and any repairs.

Living in an almshouse people were treated well however in many complexes there were also rules and regulations to follow. In Castle Rising Norfolk, to be eligible for admission to the almshouses the "Sister" (as the resident were called) was expected to be "of an honest life and conversation, religious, grave and discrete, able to read, a single woman, 56 years of age at least, no common beggar, harlot, scold, drunkard, haunter of taverns". The Sisters had to attend chapel every day, attend St Lawrence Church every Sunday and Holy Day dressed in their distinctive black hats and blue (later red) livery gowns, and say prayers for the founder whose badge they wore. In some almshouses residents were not allowed to keep animals as they might wreak havoc in the gardens, and of course if they stole anything they would have to leave.

Today, there are about 2,600 almshouse around the country, some of them very easily recognised by their architecture. Many have been brought up to date having 24 hour care for residents, disabled access, and organised activities.

This subject is a large topic to cover and Sarah's talk was very interesting, informative and enjoyed by all.

Summarised by Pauline Adlem

8 May 2021

Using Family Historian to record your family history
by Alan Hillier and Paul King

This meeting was a continuation from the previous talk on Family Historian and was in two parts with Alan Hillier talking about publishing and Paul King about sources and citations and also mapping.

Alan Hillier started with taking us through the steps needed to produce a book from scratch using the tools in Family Historian. He started by choosing a project that he wanted to make into a book. Then he went to publish and chose the book option and from there he went through the steps needed to produce the book adding a title page and different chapters for various members of the family. You can include photos, charts and free text, also you can have a table of contents and an index. There is no limit to the number of pages you can have. A very useful tool to have.

Paul King spoke to us about sources and citations. He explained how you could record your sources on the program using either templates already provided to make professional looking sources on reports - two options available and you can customize them or make your own. He also showed us how the mapping tool worked and what you could do with it, which was very interesting. It can show you all the places your ancestor lived or pin point a particular area and/or period of time.

Report by Pauline Adlem

10 April 2021

The A to Z of Easter
by Eric Probert

Eric gave us an interesting talk ranging from folklore, history, customs and events over the Easter period. He went through them alphabetically some of which were cards old and new eg, e-cards, the biggest egg ever made, egg rolling and Easter egg hunts. Customs such as 'a race carrying 1cwt sack of coal for about a mile' and 'the Britannia Coconut Clog Dancers of Lancashire'. Other things included parsley planting only on Good Friday, Simnel cakes, Maundy money and the village called Knock where they saw an apparition at Easter. We even had some music in there as well. A lot of research has gone into this talk, it certainly ranged far and wide.

Report by Pauline Adlem

13 March 2021

More discoveries of Roman Colchester
by Patrick Denney

This talk by Patrick Denney was a continuation of the talk he gave us recently. He began by telling us about the roman theatre, this would have been near to the temple, which is now the site of the castle. Patrick then told us about the foundations of the theatre, some of which can still be seen near St Helen's Chapel.

He went on to tell us in detail about the Roman burials. One of the sites is beside the new police station and this is outside the town wall as no one could be buried within the walls. We were shown pictures of the graves and the artefacts that had been found in them. Some of these are in the Castle Museum.

There has been a lot of archaeology over the years especially on the circus. The circus centre is very interesting and informative and well worth a visit, some of us from the Colchester group did go there as our summer meeting a while ago.

There was also a big dig at Stanway in the late 1990's and it was at this dig that they found a Roman board game laid out ready to play. This grave also had surgical instruments, it became known as the Doctor's grave. It was necessary to send the dead with food drink and things that meant a lot to them so they would have them in the after world.

Thank you Patrick for another very interesting talk.

Gill Peregrine

13 February 2021

Workshop/Open Day

This workshop/Open Day involved the whole society not just Colchester but it was in our slot. We were using Slack and had many different family history subjects that people could ask questions about. We had a steady stream of questions throughout the day and it was very successfully. Something that we are definitely going to have again.

Report by Pauline Adlem

6 January 2021

Using Family Historian to record your family history
by Trevor Rix

Trevor's workshop on Family Historian was very useful and informative. He took us through the basics from starting from scratch and entering your family information from the beginning and showing us how the programme works. He also explained the various steps that you have to go through and how you can customize things to suit yourself. To avoid having to start from scratch if you have another system you already use you can use Gedcom to transfer all your data onto Family Historian. As it is a British company it is easier to get help through using their members forum and in the programme itself. Trevor went onto explain how the new version 7 have updated some of their functions. There is another workshop in May covering topics not discussed here. You can also see this talk via the website

Report by Pauline Adlem

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