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. For details of our activities, and for more information on recent events and current programme, please contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434.

Who Am I? Tuesday, 9th October

"Who am I?" was the intriguing question around which Clare-based, Kelly Cornwell built her talk to the Foxearth and District Local History Society on Tuesday, 9th October. Sixteen members showed their warm appreciation of Kelly's expertise and enthusiasm at the end of her detailed description of the processes of researching one's family tree and discovering perhaps some surprising facts about one's ancestors. From a show of hands it appeared that at least half of her audience had done some historical delving into the past and Kelly gave some valuable advice to those wishing to approach the subject.

Clarity about what you want to find out is the starting point. Recollections of relatives - especially older ones - can lead to lines of enquiry. Documents such as wills, baptism, marriage and death certificates give reliable information, although a word of caution here is relevant; it is not uncommon for a person to be known - perhaps for all their life - by a name quite different from that shown on official documents so verifying a suspect fact before proceeding may prevent an excursion into a blind alley! Old photographs are often very useful particularly if a name, place or date is written on the back.The list of sources goes on and on including newspaper accounts, parish registers, censuses- and, if you feel like a wander, gravestones. Local Records Offices are usually very helpful. These are all possible avenues to explore off line but when it comes to searching via the computer there is a multitude of helpful web sites - some of which are completely free. Kelly demonstrated the access to some of these.Why not take up the challenge or if you would rather engage an expert to do the job for you then Kelly runs a consultancy service and over the last 14 years has achieved some impressive and highly praised results. (htpp/www.whoamifamilytreeresearch.co.uk)

Kelly told us of some of her research into her own ancestry and gave a delightful account of an aunt who, some generations ago, was convicted of "borrowing" a gown and some jewellery from an employer for a night out. For this she was sentenced to transportation to Tasmania where her colourful career apparently continued - so, as I understand does the research! This was a most interesting and enjoyable evening. Kelly fielded a large number of questions demonstrating the keen interest she generated.

Secretary Clare Mathieson reminded members of the arrangement for the annual dinner (The George, Cavendish, Tuesday 11th December) for which menus are available and deposits due. She also asked that members give some thought to topics, visits they would like to see included in 2019 and future programmes.

Next meeting: Tuesday 13th November at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when President Ashley Cooper will discuss Heroes, Villains and Colourful events in our Local History.

The Athenaeum, the Dome and the Telescope: Tuesday 11th September

About 25 members gathered at a meeting of the district society in Foxearth Village Hall on Tuesday 11th September to hear Dr Richard Young talk about the Victorian observatory dome and telescope on the top of the Athenaeum Club building in Bury St Edmunds. Although the town is not short of historical features the presence of the observatory was not widely known until the Club - which owns the observatory - decided in 2015 to launch a project for its restoration seeking to raise initially £6,000. The purpose of the project is to preserve a rare piece of astronomical history, show to the public views of the stars and to teach their location. Dr Young, Founder and Chairman of the enterprise described, with many photographic examples, the work involved with the first priority being the repair of the access stairs to the dome. In its present form the Athanaeum building dates from 1789 with the dome being added after the Astronomer Royal, George Airy, had given a talk on Donati's comet which was then - in 1858 - causing great excitement to local sky watchers. Rev. Lord Arthur Hervey was President of the Athenaeum Society and a leader in the dynamic scientific community who added his weight to the movement for a dome.

The restoration will include a complete overhaul of the telescope which was made by the 19th century renowned firm of instrument makers - Troughton and Simms. It is a 4 inch retractor with a magnification capacity of between 30X and 300X and complete dismantlement, cleaning and re-assembly will be neccessary to ensure its valued use for generations to come.

Dr. Young also talked about the rare sundial situated in the Abbey gardens. The dial is on the side and at the top of a tall stone column - a Victorian drinking fountain -and dates from 1870 when it was given to the people of the town by the 3rd Marquess of Bristol. It is thought to be possibly the earliest example of a dial which allowed people to set their clocks by Greenwich mean time. Many photographs showed the details of the apparatus and its various astronomical inscriptions and calculations.

This was a fascinating insight into a hitherto unexplored aspect of local history which generated a large number of questions and earned a warm response for Dr Young.

Secretary Clare Mathieson informed members that a reservation had been made for the Annual Dinner of the Society on Tuesday 11th December at the George, Cavendish. Members will shortly receive the menu and booking and deposit details. The writer has had his arm twisted (nay- dislocated) to produce a quiz - so please pay attention!

Essex Local History Societies’ Meetings (August to December, 2018)

Thursday, 16th August
Clacton and District Local History Society. 7.30 p.m. Pier Avenue Baptist Church, Clacton-on-Sea.
Vic Miller, “A green coat and a furry hat”: The Ladies of the WVS.

Wednesday, 5th September
South Woodham Ferrers Local History Society. 8 p.m. Champions Manor Hall, 94 Hullbridge Road, South Woodham Ferrers.
Lord Petre, The History of the Petre Family.

Thursday, 6th September
Hedingham Heritage Society.  7.45 p.m. The Memorial Hall, Castle Hedingham.
Richard Humphries, East Anglia and the Silk Industry.

Monday, 10th September
Billericay Archaeological and Historical Society. 8 p.m. Venue?
Louise Reed, Fanny Kemble actress/anti-slave campaigner
Stebbing Local history Society. 8 p.m. Village Hall, Stebbing.
Claire Willetts, The History of Crittalls.

Tuesday, 11th September. 
Halstead and District Local History Society. 7.30 p.m. Baptist Church, Hedingham Road.
Richard Thomas, “The Royal Gunpowder Mills”.

Wednesday, 12th September
Elsenham Village History Society. 8 p.m. Elsenham Memorial Hall.
Terry Ward, “Station to Station”: A look at the Cambridge Main Line to Bishop’s Stortford.

Thursday, 13th September
Rayleigh Town Museum. Time?
David Williams, Slavery and the City.

Wednesday, 19th September
Leyton and Leytonstone Local History Society. 7.45 p.m. St John’s Church, corner of Leyton High Road and Church Lane.
Neil Houghton, Competitive Church Buildings, the Anglican Church.

Thursday, 20th September
Clacton and District Local History Society. 7.30 p.m. Pier Avenue Baptist Church, Clacton-on-Sea.
Simon Gallup, “Unknown Constable Country”.
Halstead and District Local History Society. 7.30 p.m. Baptist Church, Hedingham Road.
Nick Sign, Servants in Suffolk Country Houses c.1700 to c.1900.
Newport Local History Group. 8 p.m. Church House, Newport
Peter Minton, Bulmer Bricklands.

Friday, 21st September
Waltham Abbey Historical Society. 8 p.m. Baptist Church, Paradise Road, Waltham Abbey.
Helen Gibson, The Templars and their barns: Cressing Temple.

Wednesday, 26th September
Saffron Walden Historical Society. 7.45 p.m. Friends’ Meeting House, High Street, Saffron Walden.
Andrew Everett, An Early Railway Station Architect – the Life, Times and Works of Sancton Wood 1814-1886.

Saturday, 29th September
Historical Association (Essex branch). 2.30 p.m. Trinity Methodist Church, Rainsford Road, Chelmsford.
Vic Gray, Building Utopia in Purleigh; the rise and fall of a late-Victorian dream.

Tuesday, 2nd October
Jaywick Local History Society. 7 p.m. Golf Green Hall
Simon Gallup, Lavenham, Dedham and the cloth trade.

Wednesday, 3rd October.
South Woodham Ferrers Local History Society. 8 p.m. Champions Manor Hall, 94 Hullbridge Road, South Woodham Ferrers.
Charlotte Harding, Braintree silk-making and the families who worked at Warner Textiles

Monday, 8th October
Billericay Archaeological and Historical Society. 8 p.m. Venue ?
Gary Egerton, The History of Colchester

Thursday, 11th October
Rayleigh Town Museum. Time?
Ted Woodgate, Rayleigh Rural Radicalism in the nineteenth-century.

Tuesday, 16th October
Fordham Local History Society. 7.30 p.m. (?) in the Village Hall
Wendy Shepherd, ‘Women your country needs you’.

Wednesday, 17th October.
Leyton and Leytonstone Local History Society. 7.45 p.m. St Mary’s parish church hall, Lindley Road.
Carol Harris, Safety and Numbers.

Thursday, 18th October 
Chingford Historical Society. 7.30 p.m. St Peter and St Paul Church, Chingford Green.
Neil Houghton, Gunpowder Paper and Leather: the Story of Chingford and Walthamstow Water Mills.
Clacton and District Local History Society. 7.30 p.m. Pier Avenue Baptist Church, Clacton-on-Sea.
Norman Jacobs, “Nora Timmens”
Halstead and District Local History Society. 7.30 p.m. Baptist Church, Hedingham Road.
Phil Lyons, The Wild West goes East.
Newport Local History Group. 8 p.m. Church House, Newport
Mark Bills, Gainsborough House, Sudbury.

Friday, 19th October
Waltham Abbey Historical Society. 8 p.m. Baptist Church, Paradise Road, Waltham Abbey.
David Stevenson, The Road to 11th November, 1918: How the First World War was ended.

Wednesday, 24th October
Saffron Walden Historical Society. 7.45 p.m. Friends’ Meeting House, High Street, Saffron Walden.
Malcolm White, Saffron Walden 1945-2000.

Saturday, 27th October
Historical Association (Essex branch). 2.30 p.m. Trinity Methodist Church, Rainsford Road, Chelmsford.
Catherine Fletcher, The Divorce of Henry VIII: an untold story from inside the Vatican.

Wednesday, 7th November
South Woodham Ferrers Local History Society. 8 p.m. Champions Manor Hall, 94 Hullbridge Road, South Woodham Ferrers.
Roger Johnson, ‘The Murder at Moat Farm’.

 Monday, 12th November
Billericay Archaeological and Historical Society. 8 p.m. Venue ?
Steve Newman, Metal Detecting. Part 2.
Stebbing Local history Society. 8 p.m. Village Hall, Stebbing.
Peter Layzell, The Essex Regiment in the First World War.

Thursday, 15th November
Clacton and District Local History Society. 7.30 p.m. Pier Avenue Baptist Church, Clacton-on-Sea.
Francis Boardman, “Suffragettes: a Media War”.
Halstead and District Local History Society. 7.30 p.m. Baptist Church, Hedingham Road.
David Austin, The Vikings.

Friday, 16th November
Waltham Abbey Historical Society. 8 p.m. Baptist Church, Paradise Road, Waltham Abbey.
James Lewis, The Great Stink and a Little Bit more.

Tuesday, 20th November
Takeley Local History Society. 6 p.m. Roseacres Primary School.
Bob Ogley, The Great Storm of 1987.

Wednesday, 21st November
Leyton and Leytonstone Local History Society. 7.45 p.m. Leyton 6th Form College (Room HE4), Essex Road, Leyton.
David Boote, The Home Front in Leyton and Leytonstone 1939-1945.

Thursday, 22nd November
Newport Local History Group. 8 p.m. Church House, Newport
Ken Worpole, We are not afraid of the Future: Communitarian settlements in Essex 1880-2018.

Wednesday, 28th November
Saffron Walden Historical Society. 7.45 p.m. Friends’ Meeting House, High Street, Saffron Walden.
Clare Mulley, The Women who flew for Hitler.

Saturday, 1st December
Historical Association (Essex branch). 2.30 p.m. Trinity Methodist Church, Rainsford Road, Chelmsford.
Joanna Story, Treasures from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Monday, 10th December
Billericay Archaeological and Historical Society. 8 p.m. Venue?
Anita Maria Sackett, Victorian Christmas – Pagan Origins.

Thursday, 13th December
Chingford Historical Society. 7.30 p.m. St Peter and St Paul Church, Chingford Green.
Morna Daniels, The Origins of Fairy Tales.

Compiled by Christopher Thompson

A Child Caught Up in a War: 10th April 2018

The year was 1938 when Company Quarter Master Sergeant Charles Lines - Royal Engineers - was told that he was to be posted to the Far East. In due course he embarked upon the troopship HMS Somersetshire together with his wife and young daughter, Margaret. War clouds were gathering over the skies of Europe but relatives of the family told them not to worry; "If war comes to England you will be well out of it" Could anything have been further from the truth!

Some 32 members and guests of the Foxearth and District Local History Society were present on 10th April to hear Margaret Nice recount how her life changed from a junior school girl in St Helens, Lancs. to life in the tropics on the other side of the world. Two years in the Army School in Singapore was followed by a move up the coast of Malaya to Penang where Margaret went to the Anglo American Girls School in the capital Georgetown. Hitherto life had been peaceful; swimming in the pools, enjoying exotic fruits and the exciting experience of new cultures with Chinese and Indian friends. A bout of a type of typhus put Margaret in hospital for some weeks and she had just recovered - but not yet back at school - when heavy bombing of Penang by the Japanese began. When immediate evacuation was ordered there was time only to pack a small bag and in the ensuing chaos Margaret found herself in charge of a little girl aged 3 or 4 whose mother had just had another child and was being carried on a stretcher. Margaret was urged by her mother to keep up with the rest but complained that her charge kept falling asleep and had to be dragged. It was 3am!

A tortuous journey to the mainland was eventually completed via lorries and a ferry manned by sailors from the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse both of which had been sunk on 10th December 1941. Once on the mainland a train took the crowds of evacuees to Kuala Lumpur station-- where the Salvation Army were on hand to dispense food and clothes - and then on to Singapore. At this point it was found that Margaret's bag of clothes had been left on a lorry in Penang but the army wives rallied around and she was soon kitted out again. Constant bombing took place of the nearby army barracks at Changi and shelter in the married quarters was of the under stairs variety offering limited protection against bombs which produced a lot of shrapnel. Eventually the news came that Margaret and her mother were to go to Australia and they sailed on the SS Narkunda. Even this voyage was not without incident. A mine was spotted close to the ship and marksmen's attempt to detonate it failed until it was perilously close. The explosion caused the ship to tip so that all the passengers on deck ended up in an untidy heap at one end.

In Australia a much more settled and safer life beckoned for Margaret and her mother but the events of the previous year had left their mark. Both were almost bald and Margaret's face was covered in sores; whether this was stress or the long diet of corned beef and tooth-breaking biscuits we cannot be sure; there was certainly no need for a weight-watchers programme! Mention was of course made of Margaret's father. He was captured and held in Changi prison until he was sent to work in the salt mines of Korea. His diaries reveal the extreme hardship that these brave soldiers endured - the totally inadequate and poor diet, the cruelty of their captors who despised them for allowing themselves to be taken prisoner, the malaria and dysentery which was so rife, the extreme cold which meant that the wash rooms were permanently frozen in winter, the list goes on. On liberation by the Americans he was emaciated and taken to Manilla to be built up before returning to the UK. Sadly the ravages of 4 years savage incarceration could not be completely offset and he died in 1957 aged 56.

Margaret brought along some photographs and some shrapnel-damaged Malaysian pewter ware - and was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson for her interesting account.

Referring to the last meeting and the recently acquired 1855 indenture, Clare reported that a connection with a Pentlow family and one of the old names mentioned in the document had been identified.

Next Meeting: 8th May 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Corinne Cox will talk about the Archaeological Test Pit Excavations in Foxearth.

The 19th AGM of the F&DLHS: Tuesday March 13th


The 19th Annual General Meeting of the Foxearth and District Local History Society was held on Tuesday March 13th in Foxearth Village Hall. There was a good attendance of 24 members, representative of most of the area, who responded enthusiastically to an invitation to bring along old photographs of the villages; a varied and nostalgic (school photos) display.

Secretary Clare Mathieson welcomed all especially several new members and reflected upon the past season which had included talks about weaving with hair cloth, histories of the Quay Theatre and the Sue Ryder Foundation, an appreciation of Pentlow Church and its relationship to Pentlow Hall, the connections that artists John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough had with the Essex/Suffolk countryside and two war related evenings - the experience of a weaver who left his trade to fight at Waterloo and the effect of World War One on the Foxearth community. The visit to Harwich had been well-supported and full of interest. 2018 promised to be no less attractive with a wartime escape from Malaya, recent Foxearth excavations, astronomical artefacts of Bury St Edmunds and family history researching. President Ashley Cooper will delve into some of the heroic, villainous and colourful events in our local history. This summer there are three "outside" visits; guided tours of Hadleigh and of Sudbury Masonic Lodge and a day trip to Ely.

Clare expressed thanks to all who had helped with, refreshments, raffles, report writing and to Andrew Clarke for his maintenace of the web site. From the floor appreciation was shown for the work of Clare and Chairman Lynda Rumble (suffering tonight from severe croakiness) and relief that they were prepared to continue in these roles.

A financial report showing the income and expenditure in 2017 was presented by Mark Mathieson who had "kept the books" since John Geddes' serious illness. It was wonderful to welcome John back at the meeting. A surplus of £80 had resulted following last year's activities and this together with the fact that membership was holding up was encouraging. Mark was thanked for agreeing to continue as Treasurer. It was agreed that the annual membership subscription should remain at £10.

Lynda reported that she had received an original copy of an indenture dated 1855 which transferred land in Foxearth and Pentlow from one Samuel Viall - a Cavendish gentleman - to Robert Steadman of Sudbury. Andrew took up the story by describing his work of transcribing the manuscript - which does not benefit from punctuation marks - recalling that the Viall offspring have become infamous in local history for exhuming their father's corpse from Foxearth churchyard and reburying him at Belchamp Otten. This episode is fully documented in the web site under sacrilege and body-stealing. Study of the indenture had revealed a large number of land owners and some hitherto unknown place names e.g.Pollard's Cross, Barelands. This is clearly an important historical record which will in due course be lodged with the appropriate authority.

Ashley was delighted that the Society was so buoyant and that members were contributing talks.
Referring to last season's talk by Dr Judy Ivy on Thomas Gainsborough he said that he had been reading a recently published book about the artist by James Hamilton. In the book's index of references appeared the Society's web site - an indication of its spreading usefulness and popularity.

A mid-meeting break allowed wine, cheese and other savouries to be enjoyed while memers explored more of the photographs on view.

Next meeting: 7.30pm Tuesday 10th April in Foxearth Village Hall when Margaret Nice will talk abot her evacuation from Malaya in 1941. Members guests and new members are always welcomed at any meeting.

Ken Nice

Film archive evening "Yarmouth in days gone by": February 13th 2018

The Foxearth and District Local History Society began its 20th season on February 13th 2018 with a Film archive evening. As we watched "Yarmouth in days gone by" we were taken on a herring fishing trip in raging seas and on a hair-raising big dipper ride; these really were moving pictures and not for the faint-hearted!

Yarmouth was a town built on the abundant herring fishing at the height of which some 800 million fish would be caught in a season. Until the early years of the 20th century sailing boats comprised the fleet but the advent of the coal-fired steam drifter greatly increased the yield as these, much larger vessels, were not reliant on the wind; there were 1,000 registered drifters at one time.

This industry was highly labour intensive and hundreds of women were employed in cleaning and preserving the fish by salting and smoking. Many girls came down from Scotland to work and such "imported" labour swelled the population of the town by 10,000 in the season. The export trade thrived. To protect their hands girls bandaged their fingers and the experienced ones could gut herrings at the incredible rate of 65 a minute. The inevitable result was that they took back to their lodgings the stench of their workplace and put newspaper on the walls in an effort to absorb the odour. Herring fishing was considerably curtailed during the second World War with many of the drifters being diverted to patrol and mine detecting work and by the mid 1950s the white fish trade had largely taken over.

The other aspect of Yarmouth life from the beginning of the 20th century was its development as a holiday resort. Visitors had always come to bathe believing that the sea would cure many ailments and the provision of railway links led to the town's rapid transition to a major attraction with its two piers and associated amusements, rides, circus and theatre. Stars like Tommy Cooper, Charlie Chester and Arthur Askey brought in the fans. The harbour became a venue for pleasure craft taking holiday makers on tours and to the Broads and - away from the seaside - there was the race course and aeroplane flights over the area. All of this made Yarmouth the fifth wealthiest town in England for a period.

This was a very thoughtfully composed film, full of interest from start to finish and applauded by the 25 members in attendance. Members were reminded that a deposit of £5 was requested from those intending to go on the trip to Ely on 14th August.


Next meeting: Tuesday 13th March at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall. This will be the Annual General Meeting to which members (and new ones will always be welcomed) are asked to bring old photographs of Foxearth and surrounding villages.

Film Archive evening Tuesday Feb 13th 7.30pm

Film Archive evening


Formerly a wealthy town with a herring fleet industry and an unrivalled holiday trade

Tuesday Feb 13th 7.30pm
Foxearth Village Hall
For more information:
Lynda Rumble 01787 281434

Clare Mathieson 01787 311337

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