The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Local group - events and information.

Meetings and activities, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For more information on recent events and current programme, please email or contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434

Programme of events 2023


Visit to National Horse Racing Museum, Newmarket

 Visit to National Horse Racing Museum, Newmarket 

Tuesday 11th July

Members of Foxearth History Society had a fascinating trip to Newmarket on 11th July, visiting the National Horse Racing Museum, and Palace House art gallery. In fine weather, our guides from Discover Newmarket and the N.R.H.M. made for a memorable day out.

The 5-acre site in the heart of the town includes part of Charles II’s palace, and the area that was the Rothschild family’s stables until 1985. Both have been fully restored, and a modern museum and visitor facilities added. Queen Elizabeth II formally opened the museum in 2016.

Our visit started with a ‘behind the scenes’ tour where we were shown the stables and Rothschild Yard, now used for retraining racehorses. As they are trained from birth to run flat-out in straight lines, and often highly strung too, it takes much dedication and patience to re-educate them for other forms of riding! We watched some of this work taking place with a newly arrived former racehorse, and also visited the forge for an explanation of the farriers work. An amazing glimpse of a different world to most of us…

The Horse Racing Museum in converted buildings is an excellent modern example. It was accessible and informative for everyone, using interactive displays and animations as well as historical pictures and artefacts. The history of racing with an emphasis on Newmarket was of course covered, and much more too. One interesting section covered the evolution and anatomy of the racehorse, comparing its skeleton to our own, and explaining how the thoroughbreds can achieve their amazing speed.

The first Newmarket Palace was built for James I, and rebuilt by Charles II after 1668. His private quarters, including his bedroom, survive as Palace House, an imposing (if not palatial) building opposite the museum. This houses the British Sporting Art Trust and the Packard Collection, many historical paintings of racing and other sporting activities, with modern artists displayed too.  

Highlights of these include horses in racing landscapes, and those showing fashions of the time, such as women riding sidesaddle. Paintings by well known artists included John Wotton’s ‘View of Newmarket c.1720 showing horse owners and jockeys on the heath with Newmarket, a small town dominated by a church spire behind and  Queen Anne and her entourage at Warren Hill, Newmarket.  

A first edition of George Stubbs ‘The Anatomy of the Horse’ 1766. showed his fascination with horses' anatomy and plates he made himself over 10 years as no one else would engrave them. Jenison Shafto’s racehorse ‘Shap' c1762 in a landscape setting (Shafto a founder member of the Jockey Club). 

Samuel ‘s The Pinckney family coursing at Stonehenge, 1845  has a detailed view of Stonehenge before the stones were re-erected; Sir Henry Landseer’s Shoeing 1884, shows a typical rural scene.  

A massive painting at the top of the stairs was Colt hunting in the New Forest 1897 by Lucy Kemp-Welch, the first illustrator of Black Beauty; Sir Alfred Munnings, paintings include The Start, October Meeting, Newmarket 1950;  Most recent was The Belvoir Huntsman John Holliday on Edward by Charles Church (b.1970), which was unveiled by our late Queen..

The N.R.H.M. also houses travelling exhibitions, and we were very fortunate to visit when it was hosting the Exhibition ‘Banksy Under Siege’. This collection of replica life-size “walls”, created by Banksy during his visit to war torn Ukraine in November 2022, form a spectacular art installation, thought provoking and sad. It is the first time the exhibition has been seen anywhere in the world and for many of us it was the highlight of the day.

We finished our trip in the sunshine in their beautiful grounds, enjoying coffee & cakes from the on-site bakery, and planning to visit more of Newmarket's many historical sites before long.

Guided visit to Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury Saturday 10th June

Guided visit to Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury 

Saturday 10th June


Since our previous visit 11 years ago, the artist’s home has been transformed into the National Centre for Thomas Gainsborough.  Thanks to a Lottery Heritage grant, the new gallery and exhibition space opened in November 2022, on the site of the old Labour Exchange alongside the existing house and gardens.

There had been little investment since the Gainsborough’s House Society was formed to purchase the house in 1968, to refurbish and establish it as a centre for Gainsborough’s work. The vision was always to build upon the rich history of Gainsborough’s House. The striking new gallery is modern and accessible, celebrating Gainsborough; his followers, contemporaries and other Suffolk based artists like John Constable and Cedric Morris. There is also new gallery space for regular temporary exhibitions.

The museum holds 40 of Gainsborough’s paintings and over 4,000 prints & drawings, many gifted or on loan to the museum.  Not all can be shown at one time, so they rotate over time. The new Gainsborough exhibition space has silk wall coverings donated by Richard Humphries Weaving based in Sudbury. 

Our groups were given guided tours by expert volunteers. We were shown early works, portraits of his family and the wealthy sponsors who helped him launch his career, and his landscapes- a real passion since sketching the Suffolk countryside as a boy. Through the portraits, landscapes and sketches we were treated to the background information behind many of the paintings. These show his love of horses and landscapes, and how he used light and dark as backdrop to his portraits of both wealthy and poorer subjects. 


Gainsborough was born in 1727 to John Gainsborough, a wealthy Wool merchant and his wife Mary, the youngest of 9 children. He attended Sudbury Grammar School till he moved to London aged 13 to develop his artistic skills. Here he met Margaret Burr, daughter of the Duke of Beaufort and made an advantageous marriage. A settlement of £200 annuity on the couple enabled him to move in influential circles and gain rich sponsors for his work. Thomas returned to Sudbury in 1749 when his father died and his family bought the house, and later moved to Ipswich, London & Bath to further his career.  

We learnt about Gainsborough’s family including his daughters Margaret & Mary, his nephew Gainsborough Dupont who joined Gainsborough’s family as a boy and became his permanent assistant (and others who were murdered in London). 


We thanked our knowledgeable volunteer guides who shared their enthusiasm for Gainsborough's work with 24 History Society members. We all agreed that their background information and wealth of detail about the works was key to making the visit a great success. 

Then in perfect summer weather, we enjoyed refreshments in the beautiful garden, maintained by volunteers who exclusively cultivate plants available in Gainsborough’s lifetime, including a 400 years old Mulberry Tree. 

All of us really have a national treasure in Sudbury - an international centre for Thomas Gainsborough, and the largest gallery in Suffolk.  


Southend Past – the Town Our Parents Knew

Foxearth and District History Society

“Southend Past – the Town Our Parents Knew” 

A film screening, 14 February 2023

However much I love the country lanes, footpaths, fields and woods of our part of Essex, every few weeks I have a yearning to be by the seaside (writes Andrew Le Sueur). Since moving to Borley, Aldeburgh has become our beach of choice. For something more remote, Shingle Street or Lee-over-Sands are good options. But for a full-fat bucket-and-spade candy floss experience, Southend-on-Sea is hard to beat.

The FDHS’s February meeting (well-attended despite or perhaps because it fell on St Valentine’s Day) was a screening of a 55-minute film “Southend Past – the Town Our Parents Knew”, narrated by Sally Ann Burnett, part of the Your Region on Film Series produced by Timereel Studios released in 2008.

The archive film traced the development of the town as a holiday resort (“a matchless Cockney paradise”) across the first 60 years of the twentieth century. The town was clearly a place for family fun and relaxation but the thoughtful narration did not shy away from highlighting the realities of life during this period. In the run up to the First World War, the town was a hierarchical society recognisable to the mid-Victorians. The Great Depression of the 1930s made it clearer than ever that Southend, while presenting opportunities for escapism for day trippers and holiday makers, was a town of haves and have-nots.

The 1950s were the last hoorah for mass tourism. The train trundling the mile-long pier was electrified and the film clips evoked an era of the simple pleasures of Miss Lovely Legs competitions, bowls and putting greens. The rise of package holidays abroad might have been the death knell for the town, but for a while Southend Airport boomed as a hub for scheduled and charter flights across Europe. It was astonishing to see air-car ferries from the 1960s, with cars being driven onto planes for the short hop across the English Channel, where passengers started their continental holiday.

For all the challenges it has faced over the years, the film emphasized the town’s civic pride. The film ended with a 1967 clip of the Queen Mother opening Southend Civic Centre, a concrete and glass tower block designed by the borough architect. The good cheer of onlookers was not dimmed by the “gentle but persistent drizzle” – something that those of us who prefer holidaying in England are familiar with.

A History of Easton Lodge

 Foxearth and District History Society

A History of Easton Lodge – the Countess and Her Gardens

A talk by Gary Matthews

10th January 2023

At the FDHS’s first meeting of the year, Gary Matthews expertly wove together two stories of transformation –  of the lifestyle of an Edwardian socialite, the other of her fabulous gardens designed by renowned landscape architect Harold Peto at the turn of the last century (writes Andrew Le Sueur of Borley Lodge).

The backdrop to both narratives was Easton Lodge, a large country house near Great Dunmow in Essex. Over the centuries this morphed from a small hunting lodge into an Elizabethan manor house into a Jacobean mansion until a devastating fire in 1874 created an opportunity to build a large Victorian Gothic pile. Arguably, its heyday was the Edwardian period when it became a setting for lavish parties attended by the Marlborough House Set including Bertie, the Prince of Wales and future Edward VII.  The hostess was Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, who had inherited Easton Lodge aged three. Daisy lived her life at full throttle, taking several lovers while married, and becoming an accomplished horse woman. In her middle years, her life took an unexpected turn: she became an avowed socialist and devoted her remaining years to fighting social inequality, philanthropy, and stood (unsuccessfully) as a Labour party candidate. By the end of her life, her colossal fortune was so depleted that she faced the prospect of imprisonment for debt. She died a woman of modest means in 1938.

During the Second World War the house was requisitioned for the RAF and many thousands of trees were destroyed and the elaborate gardens fell into ruin. After the War, the house was demolished except for one wing, which remains in private ownership. 

From the 1970s, volunteers have devoted countless hours to restoration of the gardens, which is an ongoing project. These are open to visitors every Thursday from March to November with open days on selected Sundays. February provides a chance to see the garden’s fabulous display of snowdrops.

To find out more about the gardens, visit 

“History of Spoken English” - Charlie Haylock Saturday 12th November

Fifty members and guests of Foxearth History Society were wonderfully entertained and enlightened by Charlie Haylock, in his talk “The History of Spoken English”.

Charlie explained that after the Roman empire fell (410AD), the Germanic tribes from northeast Europe quickly expanded westwards into Britain and France. The word “English” derives from the Angles, who settled in East Anglia. Saxons moved into Essex and Sussex, Jutes settled in Kent. Centuries later, Vikings and Normans invaded us too.

Over time, their new words, sounds and grammar became incorporated into the everyday spoken language, as the populations mingled. But original Celtic Britons were displaced towards the west and north of our Isles, retaining their own languages.
Many influences over the centuries, including our global trading, the British Empire, and population movements have created “English” - our rich and still-evolving language that is used worldwide. Although it has acquired 1000’s of words from the rest of the world, over 90% of our commonest words today originally came from ‘Old English’ vocabulary.

In part two, Charlie (who described himself as a “mixed-race child” with parents from East and West Suffolk with different dialects!) demonstrated his remarkable skills as he entertained us with examples of spoken English from various ages and regions. In Tudor times the sounding of the letter H (as in ‘hallelujah’) at the beginning of a word varied between Catholics and Protestants.

Shakespeare’s poetry would have sounded very different from today’s versions. It would have rhymed and flowed, and sometimes held different (and bawdy) meanings. We were treated to examples, such as parts of Romeo & Juliet in a medieval West Midlands dialect!
English became standardised in stages after printing became widespread, and some ‘rules of grammar and pronunciation’ were published. Oxford University and major Public Schools agreed standards that became the norm and led towards “Queen’s English” (sadly, in Charlie's view).

Dialects are a combination of localised vocabulary, grammar and accent. With this ‘standardisation’ of English, the variations are now mainly in local accents. But thankfully, the ridicule of ‘bad’ accents is today much reduced. Charlie was at pains to stress that no dialects or pronunciations are ‘wrong’ – rather, they are enrichments of our mother tongue.

Charlie's ‘dialect tour of the UK’ was incredible, and had his audience in stitches. Remarkably, he could also demonstrate the different facial expressions of each dialect, and explained how some deaf people can lip-read not just the speaker’s words but identify their accent too.

Charlie has a serious academic side with encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject, but is an entertainer and comedian too. He gave us a highly enlightening evening, at times reducing his audience to tears of laughter with his storytelling & humour.

We will certainly invite him to Foxearth History Society again...

Roman Long Melford - recent discoveries - by Kenneth Dodd Tuesday 11 October 2022

Kenneth Dodd started his well-attended talk on 11 October by puncturing some widely-held myths about Roman roads (writes Andrew Le Sueur). Many were not straight. At least around these parts, they were not paved as we have little natural stone. And the evidence does not support the claim in Ivan Margary’s influential text Roman Roads in Britain (1955) that two roads met at right angles on the green opposite Melford Hall. The network of Roman roads was not constructed at the same time. We learnt that in any given site of a Roman road, which were typically 8-10 metres wide, there is often a succession of roads from different periods overlaying each other requiring careful analysis during excavations. The roads often initially had a military raison d’etre, but overtime became commercially important.

Although billed as ‘Roman Long Melford’, Kenneth’s nicely illustrated lecture ranged much further back in time to the Neolithic farmers, our Bronze Age, and Iron Age forebears. Long Melford’s football and cricket pitches have been a notable source of finds. There seem to be six different Roman roads coming in and out of Long Melford. A few miles out of Long Melford there was a massive Roman estate, served by a lavish bath house with under-floor heating and a plunge pool. In closing, Kenneth said that there was ‘a lot more to find’.

Kenneth is a trustee of the Long Melford Heritage Centre, located behind the long Melford Village Hall. Roman artefacts and more can be seen there.

"A Borley Microhistory: the life and political activism of local farmer James S. Gardiner 1820-1910" by Andrew Le Sueur, Tuesday 13th September.

James Gardiner outside Borley Lodge

Five years ago Andrew Le Sueur would not have been able to place Borley on a map. It was by chance he came across Borley Lodge, and fell under its spell. As the new joint owner, during the 2020 'Lockdown' he decided to research its former occupants. This led to a fascination with one of its previous owners, James Spalding Gardiner who lived there from 1856 with his first and second wife and 13 children until his death in 1910.

More than 30 members and visitors were shown photographs of Borley Lodge inside and out at different periods of its 450 year old history, (part Tudor, Regency and Victorian); also, other local buildings associated with James S Gardiner, and his family; and a map to show local farms and the area where his extensive farm workers would have lived.

James was one of six children of a local farmer who grew up at Shearing Place between Pentlow and Clare, with the owner, a Mr Spalding, who had learning difficulties. When Spalding died, Gardiner's family inherited the property, but soon lost it when the will was contested in the High court by the deceased's relatives! They had to move on…

James’ father was able to set him up as tenant farmer in Hertfordshire We heard about the costs involved to set this up including current equivalent prices. After the death of his first wife, an advantageous marriage put Gardiner on a secure financial footing, and he could buy Borley Green Farm (now Borley Lodge)

Gardiner's numerous staff in the house, and his farm workers, were fortunate to have kind and secure employment. All around him Gardiner saw his fellow farmers, including a sister, brother and son, face bankruptcy during the crises in the agricultural sector that led to farms and fields in our parishes being abandoned. Like most farmers he started life as a staunch Conservative but took increasingly radical political positions viewing M.P.s and Government as failing to develop policies equal to the challenges the country faced. He was elected to the newly formed Essex County Council in 1889.

Andrew was clearly fortunate to find many original sources for his research including 55 of his letters written to local newspapers. Also, a similar number of often detailed press reports of meetings he addressed on a wide range of topics from abolition of the malt tax to home rule for Ireland. His sources included our Foxearth History Society website and the Sudbury Ephemera Archive. Drawing on this material, Andrew painted a detailed picture of this once notable local figure. He reminded us of the context of the layers in society, the agricultural crisis, and the politics of his times.

We were given a chance to participate as an audience in one of Gardiner's public meetings in Sudbury which completed my enjoyment of the evening. I was not alone judging by the many lovely comments overheard after his talk and I could quite understand Andrew's fascination with the subject. The scope and characters mentioned had me musing that it would make the basis for a great novel in the style of Thomas Hardy's 'The Mayor of Casterbridge', should Andrew ever wish to take up creative writing!

Tour of Clare Priory Tuesday 9th August 2022

 Many of our older buildings are palimpsestic, allowing us glimpses and hints of past lives and multiple layers of previous use (writes Andrew Le Sueur of Borley Lodge). Clare Priory, more than most, has been a site of adaptation and re-use, as more than 20 members of the FDHS found out on an expertly guided tour by Fr David Middleton OS A. The interiors of the church and priory house provided cool respite to the blistering sun as Father David, who last year celebrated 50 years as an Augustinian priest, painted vivid images of the early -, years of the holy order.                                                                                 *

We started in the shrine, the oldest part of the buildings dating to the late 1200s, dedicated to Our Lady, Mother of Good Counsel, before moving to the church and into the priory house.                                         

Father David's talk emphasized the global connections of this site. While in France, Clare's thirteenth century feudal baron Richard de Clare met Italian Augstinian friars - who traced their origins to St Augustine of Hippo in Roman North Africa — and invited them to create a religious community on the banks of the Stour, which was established by 1248. The friars' way of life ended abruptly in 1538 with Henry VIIIs suppression of monasteries and the confiscated site became a farm in private hands. The house served as a boys' school in the mid-Victorian period and at the turn of the 20th century the home to a former colonial administrator after his service in Bermuda and Hong Kong (who added a billiard room with its distinctively shaped roof). After a four century absence, the Augustines were able to purchase part of their original estate in 1953 and re-establish a religious community.                                                          

The priory's church is a striking mix of  old (medieval) and new (2011-13). Many of us were surprised to learn that the older part became a church only in the 1950s, having previously served as the community's infirmary and an agricultural building.

The priory house now provides accommodation for members of the community and, in the ground floor rooms, space for modern-day monastic life.

10 Years in the Arab World by Isobel Clark 12th July 2022

 On a very warm evening in Pentlow Village Hall, FHS member Isobel Clark talked to 26 members and guests about her experiences living in the middle east between 1968 and 1978. Everyone was intrigued by Isobel's experiences as a young woman, when her husband, Peter,was sent to Jordan by the British  Council in their role to give cultural aid, and for him to study for a thesis. (The thesis was completed, but its submission presented complications!)    

Isobel started by talking about the origins of Islam in the sixth and seventh century AD, the prophet Mohamed, and his blood lines that split into Shia and Sunni Muslims.                                                            

Throughout her time in the muslim world, Isobel said she felt quite welcome; and safe as a woman, even when the political and military situation was very tense, e.g. she was aware that every lamppost in Jordan had listening devices, and to have a private conversation she had to stand halfway between them!

While in Jordan, Isobel and her husband travelled widely, including into Syria when possible, but their time was cut short when civil unrest flared up in Israel, resulting in Palestinian refugees being sent to Jordan refugee camps.

Following the unrest, Peter was posted to Lebanon for safety. Isobel recalled an occasion when they moved to the hills outside Beirut, a neighbour from the foreign office asked if they would be happy to have a gun mounted on their veranda - they declined, and nothing more was said!   

Sudan was the next posting, where Isobel's son was born in Khartoum. The family continued to travel as much as they could while in the country, seeing the extremes first hand. In some rural areas living was very basic, with only a type of porridge as the staple food.

Isobel's very personal account was illustrated with many photos taken in each area. Maps, illustrations of Muslim design, various souvenirs and artefacts from her travels were on display. She also showed us photos from Iran on a later trip she made to the Middle East with a friend following her return from Sudan.

Isobel answered many questions at the end of the talk, giving us all a deeper and fascinating glimpse of her experiences of life in the Muslim world, from the late 1960s to 70s, before much subsequent change. I heard various appreciative comments at the end of the talk such as: "What amazing experiences" and "I    wish I'd travelled when I was younger!"

Visit to The Munnings Art Museum, Dedham - 14th June 2022

Castle House, Dedham, Essex:  the home of Sir Alfred Munnings

Few artists achieved fame and fortune in their lifetime as Sir Alfred James Munnings did, and fewer still have made the nation the beneficiary of their life’s work, as was always his wish.

Munnings ultimately became known as one of England's finest painters of horses, and as an outspoken critic of Modernism. Yet the overriding impression taken away by our visitors was one of an amazingly varied body of work, painted in many styles: cartoons, impressionist, formal works, sculpture, etc. His love was of painting landscapes and lively country scenes - but the formal portraits commissioned by wealthy clients made his fortune!

Museum Director, Jenny Hand, treated our 20 members & visitors to a fascinating in-depth look at highlights from over 200 paintings, drawings and sculpture on display at the Castle House, Munnings Art Museum. The exhibition is laid out in chronological order and Jenny used the displays to illustrate different stages of his career and the diversity of his work.

Alfred Munnings was born in 1878 at Mendham Mill, Suffolk, where his father was Miller. His boyhood talent was very evident in sketches of a working mill with horses and horse-drawn carts. He left school at 14, to take up an apprenticeship with a firm of lithographers in Norwich, and worked as a poster artist for the next six years, attending the Norwich School of Art in his spare time. His early work showed his ability to use light and shade, and his gift for humour, character and facial expression, seen in posters for Caley’s Chocolates (“lovely girls in large hats”), and Colman’s mustard.

When his apprenticeship ended, he became a full-time painter, despite the loss of sight in one eye from a freak accident when a briar thorn pierced the eye. He returned to his first studio in Mendham, and painted horses, village characters, hunting themes and landscapes.

One of his earliest commissions was a painting of John Shaw Tomkins, director of Cayley's chocolates and early patron, posing with his collie dog on a garden seat. Tomkins greatly encouraged him and took him on many tours to the Continent. In 1899 two of his pictures were shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

In 1911, he was attracted to Cornwall and the Newlyn School of painters, where met Florence Carter-Wood, a young horsewoman and painter. They married on 19 January 1912, but she tragically committed suicide in 1914.

Munnings volunteered to join the Army at the outbreak of war, but was assessed as unfit to fight. Eventually his talent was employed as war artist to a Canadian Cavalry Brigade, in the latter part of the war. He painted many scenes, including a portrait of “General Jack Seely mounted on his horse Warrior” and “The Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron”.

These works sealed his reputation and wealth, and in 1919 Munnings bought Castle House, Dedham, describing it as 'the house of my dreams’. He remarried in 1920; his second wife was another horsewoman, Violet McBride. He used the house and adjoining studio extensively throughout the rest of his career. The Studio was originally located at his aunt’s farmhouse in Swainsthorpe, Norfolk. It was dismantled in 1919 and brought to Castle House, by train and cart, where it was re-erected in the garden where it still stands today.

Munnings was elected president of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1944 and knighted in the same year. He did not really enjoy the administrative and formal presidency. And he did not hide his negative feelings about modern and abstract art - his witty and provocative 1956 painting entitled “Does the Subject Matter?” was a highlight of our visit.

Munnings died at Castle House in July 1959 and his ashes were interred at St Paul's Cathedral. There were no children from either marriage and, following his wishes, Lady Munnings turned their house in Dedham into a museum of his work, complete with furniture and artefacts, all set in 40 acres of attractive gardens and grounds. The museum now owns 650 of his oil paintings and 50 watercolours, making it the largest collection of his work in the world.

It was a memorable outing, and we highly recommend a visit to anyone.

FHS meeting May 2022. "The amazing power of public health"

The amazing power of public health

Why do we generally live longer and healthier lives than the people who inhabited our houses 150 years ago?  It would be easy to think that the answer was the invention of antibiotics, vaccinations, and the creation of the NHS but Dr Jonathan Belsey set out a different analysis at the May meeting of the Foxearth and District Local History Society. 

Jonathan, who has a professional background in medicine, used records from the Long Melford “Inspector of Nuisances” to paint a detailed and harrowing picture of the housing conditions that many working-class residents endured. 

Inspectors of nuisances, the forerunners of modern-day environmental health inspectors, had legal powers to enter homes and compel neglectful landlords to improve the sometimes-pitiful state of ordinary houses. Overcrowding, damp, rats, overflowing sewage, and dilapidations were written up in neat handwriting in thick ledgers — but, more importantly at the time, remedial action was then taken. 

The inspectors also had sweeping powers to enforce quarantine on people with highly infectious diseases such as scarlet fever. 

Well drafted legislation, implemented by conscientious officials, saved many lives.   

FDHS meeting April 22. "Ordinary lives preserved"

 Ordinary lives preserved

Sue Tibbetts, chair of the Sudbury Ephemera Archive (SEA), was the speaker at Foxearth and District History Society’s meeting on 12 April (reports Andrew Le Sueur of Borley Lodge).

The Mole family came to the Sudbury area in the nineteenth century via Wivenhoe and Bures. On the face of things, there is little noteworthy about the family. Over the generations they went to school, courted, married, had children, went to church, worked as labourers and latterly a father and son were postmen. They lived at 2 Belle Vue Cottage, Chilton and Railway Cottages, Sudbury.

What remains, a century on, are a few photographs, some birth and death certificates, a school certificate for regular attendance and good conduct at Sudbury Voluntary School, a couple of school drawing books with careful pencil sketches, and some letters regarding employment at Oliver Brothers Brewery. These were donated to the SEA by a family member keen to see them preserved. 

Sue Tibbett’s talk did not reveal any dramatic events in the lives of the Moles, whose family tree she has researched. But that is the point and the purpose of the SEA. Most of our forebears left little or no documentation, to the frustration of family, house and local historians. It is difficult to reconstruct their full and rounded lives, to know about their hopes and fears, heartaches and happinesses. All the more important, then, to collect and catalogue, as the SEA is doing, the ‘old documents, invoices, photos, letters, postcards, club and company minutes, fliers, posters, house sale details and paperwork related to Sudbury’s past’ which, in the hands of skilled amateur and professional historians, provide a key to our understanding of the past.

The SEA, a registered charity, is based at the Town Hall and its website provides a publicly accessible database of its collection: 

Report on Foxearth & District Local History Society AGM 2022

There was a good turnout of 28 members for the FDLHS annual general meeting held on 8 March in Foxearth Village Hall (writes Andrew Le Sueur of Borley Lodge). Society stalwarts Lynda Rumble and Clare Mathieson steered the meeting through its formal business. Mark Mathieson reported that the Society’s finances were on a sound footing thanks to member subscriptions (a bargain at £10) and a generous grant from Foxearth & Liston Parish Council. Several members volunteered to serve on the committee.

The meeting heard from Beverly Barker, lead organiser for the Foxearth Platinum Jubilee Celebrations, about plans for a photographic display in Foxearth Village Hall of events over the past 70 years.

After President Ashley Cooper invited members to socialise over drinks and nibbles, the Society’s webmaster Andrew Clarke spoke about the development of the Society’s wonderful website, which has become a go-to resource for amateur and professional historians interested in the history of East Anglia.

There is a rich and varied programme of monthly talks and visits for 2022 and new members and guests are always welcome. At the next event on Tuesday 12 April at Foxearth Village Hall, Sue Tibbetts of the Sudbury Ephemera Archive, will talk about “The ordinary man – a story tracing one family from Bures to Chilton and Great Waldingfield”.


Feb. 2022 meeting: "Through the Green Baize Door - a life in Service"

Bryan Thurlow, local historian with a background in professional theatre, delighted nearly 50 members and visitors as he gave a portrayal of George Barrington, a retired butler of the Victorian and Edwardian era.
Mr Barrington, born in 1856, worked in the grand house of Lord Cowrie in Yorkshire all his working life. He asked us to imagine the year 1928 as he told us about his gradual rise through the ranks to eventually becoming Butler at Thrigsby Hall.

George was one of a large family. When aged 12, his father, a miner, was badly injured in a pit accident and was unable to work. George had then to take on full time work to support his family.

He found work at the big house, initially cleaning carriages before rising to boot boy. He remembered having to take out the boot laces before polishing the boots, and ironing them before returning them, followed by a fingernail inspection.

George soon made a friend, a maid called Dora, who added some fun to his life. She’d even locked him in the laundry cupboard as a prank. One day she’d disappeared. He later found out that she’d ‘had relations’ with the under gardener so of course, lost her job.

He was asked to help the rather infirm lamplighter next before taking on the role. The chandeliers had many candles both to light, and to safely extinguish after the household retired to bed. The roles of assistant valet followed before assistant butler and finally butler.

Among George’s notable memories he shared with us was meeting Edward Vll when coming to supper; attending his master’s deaf mother in law; the death of Queen Victoria;

After Lord Cowrie’s death in a hunting accident, his eldest son took over the title and the house. He gave George a chance to experience ‘The London scene’.

During the great war, the new Lord Cowrie’s wife turned one wing of the house into a hospital. This brought an unexpected delight. Dora had returned, now as a nurse!

Later, In retirement, George was offered use of a ‘two-up two-down' in the town. On occasions he was invited to join Dora and sample her cooking for Sunday lunch.

Bryan was warmly thanked for his polished presentation which had delighted a marvellous turnout of members and visitors. What changes there have been since his days behind the Green Baize door!

19th & 20th Century Law & Order in Rural North Essex: Tuesday 9th Nov 2021

Martyn Lockwood's Tues. 9th Nov. talk about early Essex policing, with emphasis on the Foxearth area, was well appreciated by 41 members & visitors.

Several different types of local policing schemes under various Acts of Parliament existed before the 19th century including the 5 Essex towns with Borough status. These had a handful of constables on a part-time basis who were only paid expenses. Few of their responsibilities would be recognised today.

Essex was one of the first counties to establish a police force in 1840 with initial widespread distrust and resistance. Those living in rural areas could see a need for policing in cities, but felt the expense of keeping them in the countryside far outweighed their potential usefulness.

The first constables recruited had to be under 40, 5' 7’’ without shoes, to read and write, to keep accounts, be free from bodily complaint, of strong constitution, generally intelligent He needed a certificate of character that he was "sober, honest and of good temper, with respectable connections. Their salary was 19 shillings (95p) a week. The average working day was between ten and twelve hours, with a day shift and a night shift seven days a week often under difficult conditions. A week's annual leave each year was granted - unpaid of course. Constables were issued with basic uniform, rattle, truncheon and a pair of handcuffs anyone who resigned had to pay 5 shillings (25p) to have the uniform altered for the next recruit

Initially, stress was laid upon securing the goodwill and co-operation of those living in areas where the police had to operate. All patrols were on foot and it was not uncommon for a constable on a rural beat to walk over 20 miles each day. Duties were arranged to allow attendance at Divine Service, Constables were expected to show an example of “due respect for the observance of the Sabbath day."

There were no refreshment breaks and it was left to the ingenuity of the constable to obtain refreshment where he could often in public houses This led to high incidents of drunkenness amongst police officers, resulting in many dismissals from the force.

lf the constable hadn't enough to do he was given a variety of other tasks to keep him occupied: assisting the Inspectors of: Weights and Measures, Nuisances, Lodging Houses, H.M. Revenue Officers, under the Explosives Acts and Officers under the Poor Law.

A Constable who wished to get married had to request permission from the Chief Constable and the character of his future wife was examined to see if she was of a good character. A pension was not an automatic right, but only recommended by the chief constable and approved by the justices who received a pension.

Martyn gave information on early Constables for Foxearth and its neighbouring villages. Many of the crimes were petty theft, which he illustrated by a few notable cases.

The first constable to receive a newly instituted Merit Star, in 1872, was Constable John Street of Foxearth in the Hinckford Division, awarded for ’highly distinguished and discreet conduct in the discharge of duty, particularly when accompanied with risk of life, personal courage and coolness aided by marked intelligence’ It came with an additional pay of one shilling per week, (subject to forfeiture for misconduct).

The details for the award was given as:

PC 136 John Street, Foxearth was on duty in the Parish of Pentlow at 2am Sunday 7th January 1872, when he detected 3 men leaving the farm premises of Thomas Brand at Pentlow. One of them named James Beevis of Glemsford, Suffolk had in his pockets and in a sack 17 fowls just stolen from Brand’s premises. The Constable endeavoured to apprehend the three offenders and after a severe struggle with the three, numerous blows being exchanged, he succeeded in knocking Beevis down. The other two offenders unsuccessfully tried to beat Pc Street then ran away. Street succeeded in apprehending Beevis and secured the stolen property. He reported the particulars to Inspector Fox, who immediately drove over to meet PC Street at Glemsford, In the struggle one of the other offenders' cap was secured and Street soon identified as the cap of Jesse Goody of Glemsford. Inspector Fox at once apprehended him on the charge of being connected with Beevis in stealing Mr Brand’s fowls.

Of the Foxearth Constables some were moved sideways to other villages due to misconduct. Others included Pc George Sebastian Harrington 1920 who served in WWI but rejoined the Essex Police, and Pc Richard Beart Ball 1937. He joined the RAF in 1942 but was killed on operations in the Far East with no known grave.

Martyn’s research was based on records at the Essex Police Museum Chelmsford CM2 6DN It was set up in 1992 to provide an archival and educational space displaying documents, artefacts, objects and photos on local history. A valuable resource for research with family history

What it takes to make a yard of cloth - Richard Humphries (Oct 12th)

About 36 members and visitors were spellbound as Richard recounted his personal story of growing up in Braintree in the 1960s, through to the present day. As a left-handed child overshadowed by an academic sister, his practical and artistic talents were overlooked, but key ‘Fairy Godmother' figures: his Scout leader, an entrepreneurial uncle, and later Stephen Walters intervened to change the course of his life.

Richard left school in Braintree at 15 to begin his design apprenticeship at major silk weavers Warner & Sons, and made rapid progress. But this old firm was to close five years later and he was made redundant. Inspired by his uncle to begin on his own, he set aside his musical ambitions, saved some of the old machinery and patterns from the scrapheap, and started on his own. From this small beginning the business expanded firstly to Castle Hedingham and then also in Braintree, creating the most expensive and luxurious cloths for the Aristocracy of the world. When Royal palaces at Hampton Court and Windsor were damaged by fire, Richard was able to recreate the historic textiles, restoring the interiors to their former splendour. 

Richard's talk was illustrated with many samples of silk fabric designed and made for landmark orders. From the Harry Potter spider webs to The Lord Mayor of London’s robes, from the upholstery of the State Gold Carriage to the silk velvet in the Crown Jewels, the fabrics have one thing in common:- Richard Humphries was responsible for their creation in England’s last remaining home of the Silk Industry in Sudbury and North Essex. 

We could only marvel at Richard's unique achievements, drawing on his apprenticeship training, natural artistic abilities, and his obvious drive and charisma to set up his own business and thereby keep the tradition of silk weaving in our local area. This memorable detailed picture of his early life and career really helped us understand all the opportunities and setbacks he has faced. 

Fifty years on, Humphries Weaving Company continues to make beautiful custom woven silks at Sudbury Silk Mills. Richard is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and sits on the Court of the Worshipful Company of Weavers, London’s most ancient guild begun in 1133, and gives guidance in its charitable activities, helping textile students entering the industry. He was awarded an MBE for services to the Textile Industry in 1985. Most importantly Richard is married to Michelle, herself a narrow cloth weaver, and they have six children. 

Richard is an excellent speaker with a comedian’s flair. His humorous anecdotes, e.g: the celebration of future orders as Windsor Castle burned, and his impersonations of Royalty and politicians he had met, had his audience in stitches. We hope he will revisit Foxearth before too long!

The Night Train: Talk and Film-Showing - Tuesday, 14th September

On Tuesday, 14th September, Peter Jones gave 22 members & visitors a fascinating talk about the background to the making of the classic 1936 film 'Night Mail' followed by a showing of the film. It was a first meeting back after covid restrictions, in the refurbished Foxearth Village Hall

In 1935 the 'in house' film unit of the GPO were commissioned to make a film about the Travelling Post Office (TPO) as part of a series of events to mark its centenary. The head of the film unit was John Grierson. and it was down to his vision, and readiness, to use untried talent that made the film so successful. Released January 13th 1936, it is now recognised as one of the most critically acclaimed films to be produced within the British documentary film movement.

It was collaboration of talents rather than of any one individual. Most of the direction was down to Harry Watt who would go on to direct feature films like "The Overlanders" and "Where No Vultures Fly".

The film also shows a bold use of sound, bearing in mind that the first talking picture had appeared less than 10 years previously. The sound direction was under the control of Alberto Cavalcantti, a maverick Brazilian filmmaker. His skilful mixing of location sounds, speech, music and contrived sound effects regarded as commonplace today, in the 1930's was ground breaking. His expertise can be seen particularly in his collaboration with Benjamin Britten's music and WH Auden's poetry in the atmospheric conclusion of the film featuring Auden's famous poem "Night Mail". Britten was only 22 and in his first job, and Auden had been taken on as an assistant director, and for both of them working in the film industry was a bit of a culture shock.

The film was made with heavy, difficult to handle clockwork cameras, they weighed 221b and used 35 mm film in a magazine that held 200 feet, enough for two minutes. One "wind" of the clockwork mechanism ran 170ft of film. A further difficulty was that the image in the camera's eyepiece appeared upside down. So different from the camera's of today.

The appeal of the film is that although it is a documentary, it does not just quote facts and figures. It tells a story, shows the camaraderie and team spirit of the workers and looks into the human aspects of running the TPO from the railways point of view as well as the Post Office. The film has some nice sequences. The signal box piece is a masterpiece of film editing and shows the work of the signalman in a few well placed shots.

Filming the TPO arriving at Crewe was done over several nights, and captures the busy atmosphere very well, bearing in mind the train only stopped for 13 minutes!

Just as they were packing up after an all night filming session the wheeltapper, who had been waiting patiently and whom the film crew had completely forgotten, said "What about me Mr Watt?". They had to unpack the camera and shoot his bit. Consequently, within the film crew, any forgotten shot was always known as a "wheeltapper".

Because of the very restricted space in the TPO carriages it was impossible to film the TPO staff at work. All the interior shots were filmed on a specially built set at the film studios in Blackheath. To convey the impression of movement the actors, who were all TPO staff, were told to sway, a technique that would be later used on the early Star Trek TV series. Also, there were lengths of string hanging from the sorting frames that were surreptitiously nudged about to give the impression of movement. The section showing the bagging sequence, where the mail is made up into leather pouches ready for despatch, is well done, and explained in the form of instructions being given to a new recruit. The bags, which could weigh as much as 601bs had to be put out with split second timing, as demonstrated when they are put out but not until they have passed under two bridges and counted 25 wheels beats. Clever use of the carriage wheel beats helps to build the tension, but they were not able to get the train wheels to the right rhythm, so they recorded the wheel noise of a model train.

The film was originally allocated a budget of £2000, which the film unit blew quite convincingly, and the ensuing row nearly caused the shut down of the Unit. The film starts quite grandly with aerial shots and 19 out of the 22 minutes running time is spent getting from London to Preston when there is a sudden change of pace. The next minute we are over Beattock and shortly after arrive in Glasgow. It was partly because they had run out of money that accounted for the films abrupt end and Auden was commissioned to write his poem "Night Mail" to make the ending grander.

This film is a masterpiece on so many levels and can be regarded as a milestone in filmmaking. Its style certainly influenced many later British films such as the "Blue Lamp" and "The Cruel Sea". Although there are a few continuity and operating errors, "Night Mail" it is still a marvellous film that has never lost its appeal and with the demise of steam trains and the Travelling Post Office never will.
Clare Mathieson

 East Anglian Railway Museum visit - July 2021

On 13th of July, some members of Foxearth History Society were treated to a guided tour of the East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel and Wakes Colne station. Anyone who travels on the Marks Tey line will have noticed a variety of rolling stock and buildings, probably not knowing the museum’s story, and just how much there is to be seen there.

Our group arrived (by train and road), to be met by Peter Martin, a FHS member, EARM volunteer, lifelong railwayman – and a very knowledgeable and entertaining speaker!

He explained that, although the line was opened in 1849 after the building of the massive Chappel Viaduct, the original plans for the route had been rather different. The viaduct – with 7 million bricks the largest brick structure in East Anglia - enabled the current line to be built, with the objective of connecting Colchester Hythe docks to Sudbury, and later Norwich, Cambridge and beyond. Other branch lines were built, often by different Railway Companies, such as the one from Chappel to Halstead and Haverhill.

By the late Victorian era, East Anglia was criss-crossed with many small branch lines, that had largely replaced canals and horse-drawn carts for carrying bulk goods – wheat, coal, bricks in our case – and passengers. The original Chappel station building was replaced in 1891 by the elegant and grandiose building we see today. In those days the railways’ long-term future would have seemed secure.

But by the time the Railway companies were nationalised in 1949, much had changed: road transport and private car ownership were growing fast, and many lines were overmanned and underused. In 1960 Dr Beeching was commissioned to report on how to modernise British Railways and, without long-term foresight or vision, in 1963 he recommended (and the Government largely accepted) that all unprofitable lines should simply be closed. This included the Marks Tey to Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds line, so “the axe” seemed inevitable.

The railway museum group was first formed in the hope that they could operate a steam ‘heritage’ railway on the line, and took on board a largely empty site with some unwanted artefacts. But by a ‘quirk of fate’ the Sudbury to Marks Tey line alone survived. British Railways had failed to realise that a second Act of Parliament was needed to close this section, and by 1970 public pressure and growing demand caused a change of heart. So now the line could not be used by the East Anglian Railway Museum, which then set out on its 50 year (and ongoing) project to preserve and restore as much of the local railway heritage as possible.


Our tour began by crossing the footbridge, from where we had a marvellous view of the Colne Valley and the track crossing its viaduct (which looked surprisingly low from this vantage point). We were told that almost everything on the other side – tracks, signal box, rolling stock and most buildings – had been acquired by the museum, and moved and restored by museum volunteers. Even the footbridge had travelled from the old Sudbury station!

The signal box had come from Mistley, and visitors were given the opportunity to work the points and signals. Peter explained how accidents in the early days of rail transport had led to the stringent safety protocols in place today.

The rolling stock included a wide variety of engines and carriages, some on static display, and others fully functional that were used to give visitors short rides on Museum open days. One of these was a newly restored Railbus (seen on our visit flyer) which had worked this line before it was ‘retired’. It is one of only five in existence now, and unusually for British Railways it was a German design.

We were shown the old Goods Shed, a large brick building used for loading, and as a temporary store for goods being transferred at Chappel. We also saw the little hut outside for the Goods Clerk, whose daunting task was to ensure that everything passing through was recorded and sent to the correct destinations. As Peter pointed out, a goods train from Colchester to the Midlands would add and drop off wagons at most stations, and may end up with none of its original cargo at the final destination! “Cargo” could include anything from live cattle to private parcels to bulk goods! The logistics and admin involved, using only paper, pen and ink, is difficult to imagine for us now.

The goods shed now houses some beautifully restored carriages, and an original railway crane. (It is also home to beer kegs, when the Chappel Beer Festival takes place!)

Much restoration work is progressing behind the scenes, and our group had the chance to visit the Restoration Shed which is not usually open to the public. We saw a large dismantled locomotive with its boiler away for certification – it is planned that it will be restored to working condition and active again before long. Also a variety of wooden passenger carriages that had typically been scrapped by BR and ended up as private sheds, beach huts, and so on – then rescued to be preserved and restored by the volunteers. One particular example had been bought privately for £350, then donated to EARM – the cost of a full restoration was estimated at over £100,000 - so fund-raising activity is always vital.

The museum is a charity, funded totally by donations and staffed by volunteers. It runs open days at weekends, when a short section of track alongside Chapel station is used to carry passengers for a real taste of the old railways. Our visit ended with thanks from Clare Mathieson to the volunteer guides, and a thank you in return from Peter for the donations made by the Society and individuals to their museum funds.


Programme of events: 2021


Sat 12th

  Ashley Cooper 

Guided visit to the site of the Roman Villa and Museum, Gestingthorpe


Tues 13th

Peter Martin

Visit to East Anglian Railway Museum, Chappel & Wakes Colne station.

7.00pm start, convenient for train from Sudbury.  (Fully booked)


Tues 10th

Isobel Clarke

“10 years in the Arab world”

Venue: The Pinkuah Arms, Pentlow, CO10 7JW  -  7.30 start.


Tues 14th

Peter Jones:  

A showing of archive 1936 Film ‘The Night Mail

With a talk on the background to the making of the film.  


Tues 12th

Richard Humphries 

 What it takes to make a yard of cloth (55 years in textiles)


Tues 9th  

Martyn Lockwood:

19th & 20th Century Law & Order in our Rural North Essex. 


Tues 14th

Members’ Christmas meal - The George, Cavendish.  Details TBC



Meetings are held in Foxearth Village Hall 7.30pm (unless otherwise stated).

New members and friends are always welcome.

 Visitors £2 per visit   Members £10 per year


For more information, contact:

Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787  281434