The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Committee Announcements
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Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations.

'Hev yer gotta loight boy', North Essex Ballads 11th October 2016

  "Hev yer gotta loight boy" was not a phrase uttered by Keith Lovell in his entertaining exploration of Local History through North Essex ballads at the meeting of the District Society on 11th October- but it illustrates the expert way in which he recited a selection of these folk legends.
A retired priest, Keith is well-known locally for his series of books on village signs and these were on display. As a proud  Essex man - and keen Colchester united supporter - Keith spoke about his long-held fascination with the ballads which date from around the end of the 19th century and which were collected mainly by Charles Edward Benham of the established family of printers and newspaper proprietors in Colchester. Charles Benham was a versatile character; a writer, artist and inventor of a toy known as Benham's top which when spinning gives different effects in colour perception. This is now used as a diagnostic tool in eye conditions.

  In an authentic accent - and pausing occasionally to elucidate a bit of obscure dialect - Keith read a number of ballads dealing with a variety of human emotions. There was a ballad of astonishment at the sale of a farm - and what was going to happen to the workers, one about the hopeless love a country lad had for Julia, the parson's daughter and - in a ballad of wrath- the speaker rages about the weather, which is never right, and which " fair do make me hollyriled"! Another tells of the mournfulness of an old man facing death and the sad theme was continued in the tale of Jimmy Kingdom who fell off a haystack onto some iron and was never quite right in the head subsequently.  A warning to someone  proposing to spend the first night in a haunted house was very graphic and there was the colourful story of Old Bill, a chancer and artful character, who got up to all sorts of tricks. Paternal pride was evident as a father recounted his son's transition from country bumpkin to well travelled and well turned-out gent. Finally frustration with "New fangled ways" was depicted in a tirade against the Board schools; "put 'em in the fields and let 'em larn to sow"!

This was a lovely talk giving great amusement to the 14 members present and Keith was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson.

Clare reminded members of the need to book their places for the Annual Dinner at The George, Cavendish on 13th December and to make their menu selections.

Next Meeting:  Tuesday 8th November 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Lynda Rumbold will present some archive film


The dissolution of the monasteries in Suffolk: by Pip Wright 13the September 2016

Prolific Suffolk author and historian, Pip Wright, was the speaker at the meeting of the Society on 13th September; his subject was the dissolution of the monasteries in Suffolk.

Although this nationwide demolition  act is generally seen as the wish of King Henry VIII to distance England from the church of Rome, for various reasons numerous monasteries were falling into disuse much earlier. In the 14th century relations with France were turbulent and England wanted to  rid itself of the many French  monks who were around and this led to the closure of some orders. Then there was often intense rivalry between the towns and the abbeys- Wymondham being a particular example. The abbots in the large institutions were powerful men many sitting in the House of Lords. The religious belief that death was followed by an uncomfortable (at least) period in purgatory during which the soul was cleansed in readiness for its arrival in heaven caused people to make donations to "good" causes e.g. monasteries, in the hope of easing the purgatory experience. Thus monasteries became very rich and in order to attract more  wealth they tended to indulge in lavish entertaining, hunting etc. Endowments would often include large estates which encompassed fairs, markets, mills: in fact they became businesses which were perceived as being against the traditional ethos of piety and sacrifice with which the Benedictine, Augustinian, Franciscan and Cistercian founders were associated.

King Henry's Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey - who was born in Ipswich - wanted make the town a seat of learning by building a college there as good as that of Kings in Cambridge. In order to raise the money for this he closed the monasteries where corruption was rife and built his educational establishment of which only the gateway remains today. On Wolsey's death in 1530 his secretary, Thomas Cromwell was appointed Chief Minister to the King and he raised funds for the exchequer by continuing Wolseys's closures..In 1536 of 80 monasteries in Suffolk 77 were closed . So whilst the wholesale dissolution was initiated primarily for financial reasons, Henry - having declared himself as head of the church in England - no doubt saw the process as an act of  revenge on Pope Clement VII for his refusal to annul the King's heirless marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

This was a most interesting talk clearly delivered, based upon detailed research and illustrated with numerous slides of  local monasteries, mainly in ruins. On behalf of 15 members present Pip was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson.

Next meeting: October 11th 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Keith Lovell will talk explore local history through North Essex ballads.


The History of the Breeding of Budgerigars: 14th June 2016

We always knew that there was bird life in Pentlow but the full extent of it was only revealed to members of the District Society when they visited the home of Ghalib and Janice Al-Nasser in the village on 14th June. Ghalib and Janice are world renowned experts on the breeding and exhibition of budgerigars; a lifelong passion for them both which has earned them over 700 certificates and numerous awards and international recognition. A visit to their web site shows the extensive commitment and involvement they both have to their hobby and they hold many official positions in budgerigar clubs in the Home Counties and Midlands. Ghalib has lectured and judged in over 30 countries and is considered to be the world leading authority on colour mutation in the birds.

Ghalib gave a full account of the history of the bird from the time that John Gould (1804 to 1881) a British ornithologist brought a collection back from Australia where they were - and still are - prolific in the wild. There is thought to be about 5 million at present in the world of many colour variations. Their natural life span is between 5 and 8 years but in captivity they will usually survive a little longer. Being very social birds they exist in large flocks living - in the wild - on grass seed. When it comes to nesting they tunnel into trees, the hen laying usually about six eggs at two-day intervals making hatching and subsequent feeding a progressive business. In the 1950s budgerigars were the most popular pets in England - fascinating for their splendid mimicry (if one has the patience) but nowadays in third place after dogs and cats. At Woburn Abbey the Duke of Bedford kept a large aviary and deliberately released a number of budgerigars into the English countryside where some developed a homing instinct and returned to their cages.

At the end of this most interesting talk - and before some delicious refreshment - the 14 members present were shown around the enormous and impressive bird room. This houses about 400 budgerigars (very noisy!) at various levels of life from fairly newly-born chicks to birds being prepared for a Cambridge show at the coming weekend. All birds are tagged when just a few weeks old and recorded. Some are champions and others are being groomed for stardom. The hard work and devotion that the carers put in to this enterprise was evident and Ghalib and Janice were warmly thanked by Alan Fitch for a very special evening.

Next meeting: A visit to the mediaeval excavations at Goldingham Hall, Bulmer on Tuesday 12th July. Secretary Clare Mathieson will circulate details to members.

The Beefeater and the Tower of London in English History: 10th May 2016

About 28 members and guests of the District Local History Society were "sent to the Tower" on 10th May when Kevin Kitcher - Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London (and Borley resident) gave a fascinating talk about the role of the Beefeater and the prominent part the Tower has played in English history. As one of 37 Yeoman Warders, Kevin's job includes the guardianship of the Crown Jewels, the security of the premises (the daily Ceremony of the Keys) and taking part in various state occasions for which different uniforms may be worn. All of these functions are centuries old but nowadays Beefeaters also act significantly as tour guides for which extensive knowledge of the Tower is required - and this was amply demonstrated in Kevin's address.<

The buildings comprising this London landmark occupy an eighteen and a half acre site the main structure being the White tower erected in 1078 by William the Conqueror. As well as being a royal residence this served as a prison from 1100 of which the first occupant was Bishop Ranulf Flambard; he was also the first escapee as he got the guards drunk and made off using ropes which had been secreted in the wine barrels he was able to import. In the Tudor period many notables were imprisoned in the Tower including Elizabeth 1, Ann Boleyn, Guy Fawkes - and, within living memory, Rudolf Hess for a few days in 1941. The building became less of a royal residence and more a place of confinement, torture and death. It was also used for the manufacture and storage of gunpowder. There were three established categories of prisoner: close prisoners were those in close custody (Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, for example, both executed); the second category were liberty prisoners meaning those who had a right of access to the outer boundary of the complex; thirdly there were pledgemen being those who had given a pledge to return (or to provide a substitute!)

King Henry VII formed the Yeomen Warders in 1485 and the Tudor rose forms part of their badge. All Yeomen (there is, at present, one woman!) Warders are senior NCOs retired from the armed forces after at least 22 years experience and with good conduct and long service medals. It is a requirement that they live in one of the 43 tied houses on the site. One of the warders is designated as Ravenmaster to care for the birds which have been associated with the Tower - and its superstitions - or some centuries.

This was an extremely entertaining talk delivered with wit by Kevin and containing a great mass of facts, dates and anecdotes - but can we really believe some of the questions that American tourists are reputed ask of the tour guides! Alan Fitch thanked Kevin for his fine contribution and all present showed their warm appreciation.

Next meeting: 14th June 7.30pm in Pentlow at the kind invitation of Janice and Ghalib Al Nasser who will talk about The history of the Budgerigar

The History of WalnutTree Hospital 9th Feb 2016

The District Society had the pleasure, on 9th February, of hearing local author and historian, Phyllis Felton, talk about Walnutree hospital. Mrs Felton dealt in general with the origins of the hospital and more particularly with nurse training there. Her very interesting talk displayed deep research of the former aspect and authoritative knowledge of the latter as she had been a member of the nurse training school in the 1960s with a subsequent long career at the hospital.

Traces of Iron Age and Saxon habitation indicate that the site goes back about 4,000 years but modern history dates from 1702 when the first workhouse was established. This was demolished in 1837 and a purpose-built workhouse was erected. In the 1930s it became a hospital and Poor Law institution with overnight accommodation for vagrants. In 1955 it was formally designated as a geriatric hospital. In 1960 it had 140 beds, a dispensary run by the sisters and other supporting services such as pathology, laundry, catering, portering, maintenance and two gardeners to cope with the extensive grounds. A full-time medical officer and a physiotherapist each served the hospital for 30 years giving the facility an admired reputation for consistent service to the community.

Nurse training at Walnutree began in 1942. Classroom work was combined with "hands-on" experience at the bedside. Supervision of trainees was given by the Matron who would stress the qualities required and expected of a nurse. First and foremost was the vocation - you had to want to be a nurse. Along with this went compassion, tolerance, observational skills etc. Training had to given in manual lifting techniques as there were no hoists available and before the coming of sterile packs, sterilization methods had to be learned. Nurse training at the hospital ended in 1970. Mrs Felton had an enormous selection of photographs on show. Inevitably for an amenity which had been a vital part of community welfare for so long there were recollections of some of the associated characters which sounded a chord with a few of the 15 members present! Nostalgia reigned!

Secretary Clare Mathieson thanked Mrs Felton warmly for her fascinating contribution to the evening.

Next meeting: Tuesday 8th March 7.30pm in Foxearth VIllage Hall for the Annual General Meeting with cheese and wine.

Floods in East Anglia during 1912 to 1953 - 12th January 2016

On 12th January the 2016 season got underway with an archive film about the floods in East Anglia during 1912 to 1953; a topical subject in view of the dreadful situations which occurred before and after Christmas in northern parts of England and Scotland. Secretary Clare Mathieson is to be congratulated on finding film so relevant to the recent tragic circumstances.
The film opened with scenes of the Fens in 1912 when water levels rose by 8ft, following over 4 inches of rain, which washed away defensive banks built in Roman times. Then in February 1938 the Norfolk coast was lashed by terrible storms and 1947 saw the coldest winter in memory with heavy snow and later persistent rain causing the rapid thaw that did so much damage to arable land. At one time the water was rising by 1ft an hour. All of these events had been filmed mostly by talented amateurs to show houses submerged to the eaves, fishing boats in the middle of village greens, people being rescued and debris everywhere.
Perhaps the most awesome pictures were those dating from 31st January 1953 when a freak tidal surge - with a gale measured at 113 mph - hit the East Anglian coast causing widespread flooding. There were many deaths from Harwich to Hunstanton. The people of Norway donated timber houses and American servicemen based in the area helped in the enormous clear up operation. Industry was badly affected particularly the large margarine factory at Purfleet. where the factory floor was 15ft under water.
As the water receded the full horror of the damage and contamination was revealed and it is an incredible fact that moving from disaster back to normality took just 43 days. In this time every piece of equipment had to be completely dismantled and cleaned or replaced; gallons of anti-bacterial chemicals were used in repeated procedures in which all the staff and many volunteers helped.
It should be remembered that this was a generation for whom memories of the blitz and warfare were still vivid and it is to their great credit that they just got on with the job. In 1953 there was no central warning system of floods - but this was to be set up within a year or two. This was a gripping film albeit with some very sad reminders of the past.


The Christmas Dinner of the Local History Society


Once again the Cavendish George was a comfortable and festive venue for the Christmas dinner of the District Local History Society. On 8th December 25 members and guests enjoyed traditional fare - with crackers of course - in a relaxed and happy atmosphere. Chairman Alan Fitch reflected upon an active year for the Society which had included a guided tour of historic Long Melford, local explorations with metal detectors, President Ashley Cooper's talk on the excavations at Goldingham Hall, a dog walker's view of East Anglia and the history of Sudbury's department store, Winch and Blatch, as well as a couple of archive film evenings. Secretary Clare Mathieson gave an outline of the 2016 programme when there will be talks on the dissolution of the monastries, Foxearth in the Great War, the Tower of London ( by our locally-living Yeoman Warder), the history of the Harwich picture palace, local history through Essex ballads, Nurse training in the 1960s at Walnut Tree hospital and some facts about budgerigars by a member! In prospect are possible visits to the Whitechapel bell foundry and Ely. Clare will communicate with members about these. The President expressed appreciation for the way the Society was progressing and in particular for the leadership shown by the Chairman.

The evening provided a convivial end to an interesting season and the promise of a full and varied diary of events for the coming year.

Ken Nice

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