The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Committee Announcements

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.

Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, near Maldon. Monday 12th August 2019

On Monday 12th August, 19 members of the Foxearth History Society had a fascinating day-trip to the Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, near Maldon. 

The aerodrome has the largest known surviving group of Royal Flying Corps buildings on a WWI aerodrome anywhere in the country. See

First opened in 1916, the aerodrome saw the birth of Air Defence in response to the first raids by Zeppelins on London and the southeast. It played a key role during the first London Blitz the following year,  and continued in its role until Spring 1919,before it thereafter reverted to agriculture. 

A newly formed Trust was able to purchase the land and surviving buildings in 2012, with the plan to save and restore dilapidated buildings, and reopen the site to the public. A small army of volunteers set to work, with stabilization and reconstruction work being the first tasks. 

It is remarkable to see what has been achieved in such a short time: a visitor centre and museum opened, the restored Airmen's Mess now provides lunches and teas and holds private events, and two hangar buildings display seven WWI period replica aircraft (some give flying displays). There are 22 buildings still surviving, that will take millions of pounds to fully restore, so fundraising for the future is another priority. 

We were given a tour by a very knowledgable guide. She explained the aerodrome’s buildings and layout, and its role in fighting the German Zeppelins and planes that bombed SE England (including Sudbury) in WWI. 

We heard stories of the young pilots who flew their flimsy planes, on winter nights, up to 15,000 feet without oxygen - they were often too cold to move on their return to the ground, and had to be carried back to their quarters to recover. And of course some did not survive. Of the ten from 31 squadron who died, two were shot down by a Zeppelin, but eight perished in flying accidents: a mid-air collision, faulty maintenance, but often simply a lack of flying experience before being sent to war… 

Stow Maries was never attacked in WWI, though in WWII a German aircraft mistakenly bombed the former hanger buildings (then used as cattle sheds), and a number of animals were unintentionally butchered. 

After a hearty lunch in the Airmans’ Mess, our group spent some time in the museum. This has been well laid out with everything from post cards, original artefacts and audio-visual displays – it really gave a good understanding of the air war and the “First London Blitz”. Even those who felt they knew about this period learnt a lot more. Unfortunately our arrival had been delayed by closure of the only route the local council allow to be signposted, and the minibus Satnav did not offer much help! So many of the group plan to revisit another time – it is well worth it. 

A guided tour of The Bulmer Brick & Tile Company with Peter Minter. Tuesday June 11th 2019

On Tuesday June 11th the rain dried up sufficiently for 18 members and guests for a guided tour of The Bulmer Brick & Tile Company. Our host & guide Peter Minter, a keen local Historian, told of his memories of moving as a small child from London with his family in 1936. When his father took over the brickyard, ft was one of many around Sudbury at the time, none of which now remain. The clay seam at Bulmer was formed some 40 million years ago from river estuary deposits known as the London beds. The clay is very clean with excellent brick making qualities and Bulmer has plenty for the next 50 years production at least.

Discoveries have been found on the site as evidence of early man, including a flint hand axe. A bronze age urn, Roman pots and early bricks that show use of day on the site for many years. Records show brick making at Bulmer has been continuous since the mid 1450s, with a Medieval tile kiln found during ploughing in 1958. Early maps show 'Hurrells Hole Farm' brick making activity close to a pond, being the probable site of the first day pit. Peter can trace the Hurrell family to 1595, selling on to the English family who were owners in 1795. In 1923 it was purchased by a local brick maker who wound down the brick making before selling the brickworks with the farm to Peter's father in 1936. The house had no modem facilities so complete renovation was required.

Peter told us many stories of the process. As a child, Peter's father took him on site visits to the airfields and wartime bomb sites to see what brickwork was required when renovations were needed. He still visits sites to problem-solve where renovation is requested to match the original brickwork.
Peter learned the skills of brick making from older staff who were too old to be needed for war work. He showed us the handmade process using traditional methods, that have changed little over the years, and the clay seam where day for each year was dug during the winter months when farming was quiet and day bricks and pots would not dry properly. The clay is now processed using diggers and a pug mill' purchased in the 1890s. Peter has also more recently purchased equipment from Stoke-on-Trent potteries for processing the day to produce extra fine bricks for carving. Additional covered drying sheds have now been supplemented with heated sheds to speed the process and keep production going in wet weather.

There were three 'up draught' rectangular open topped kilns on the site, which were inefficient of fuel and difficult to control especially in wet weather.

His father invested in a new kiln with a 'down draught' design largely complete by the beginning of the second world war; really useful for the making of land drain pipes for many local airfields between 1941 and 1944. These kept the brickyard in operation as other brick orders dried up. The kiln has been refurbished and a further kiln built when further capacity was required.
Great skill is required for the slow firing process; loading the kiln takes approx 3 days; the firing another 3 days to gradually build up the heat by stoking the 7 coal fires each hour with judgement to decide when the correct temperature is reached; a further 3 days for cooling & unloading.
The brickyard is busy now making handmade bricks, tiles etc for renovation work. Peter has developed his range of work undertaken. Moulds are made individually for each customer to match old samples he is given. The work includes flooring and roof tiles, decorative work including twisted and shaped chimney bricks.

Recent renovation projects undertaken include those for the National Trust, English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces. Also, many local or small private works and listed buildings. As much of the original material is used. Peter has found additional clay sources now for white and pink bricks, to extend his range of projects, with licences to extract clay for over 20 years at present.
Peter gave many examples of his work which goes all over the UK & other countries. Projects undertaken include Bury St Edmunds and St Pancras railway stations, the spire of Halstead church, flooring in Westminster, window tracery on the Carmelite Friary in Norfolk. A recent notable project was to help the architect with the rebuild of Mattingleys, on the Sudbury Market hill which burnt down in 2015. Bulmer had provided the original bricks and Peter was able to advise the architect and make appropriate bricks for the new facade.

Several of Peter's family now work in the business, the most recent recruit being his grandson, who has a talent for carving for the decorative mold making. A total of 25 staff are kept busy to keep up with the orders coming in. Peter was warmly thanked for the most memorable and informative evening he had given. He has now written a book called the Brickmaker's Tale which records the in depth  history, memories, people, and changing methods of the family brickmaking at The Bulmer Brick & Tile Company.

The Harwich Railway and Shipping Museum

 The Harwich Railway and Shipping Museum

The Museum is housed in the Harwich Town station buildings which opened just three years after the Great Eastern Railway in 1865. Over the past two years the buildings have undergone a massive transformation; they have been configured to show the GER station at Harwich Town as it would have looked internally in 1924. This date was chosen to coincide with the official opening of the train ferry branch line on April 24th 1924 by Prince George Duke of Kent.

The Museum is currently housed in ten rooms in the North Wing and South wing of the station with an archive room to follow shortly.

The Museum, curated by local rail enthusiast Bob Clow from his own lifetime acquisitions, displays a unique collection, never before seen by the public.

The Museum will be open every Saturday from 10am to 4pm.
Admission is on a donation basis, with a £1 minimum suggested donation. If you are a UK taxpayer, please help us further by completing a Gift Aid Declaration form.

Groups are very welcome, please book in advance with

Rayleigh Town Museum Events

Rayleigh Town Museum Events

Trinity Fair Exhibition June 2019

The museum is holding a small exhibition during June to coincide with Rayleighs Trinity Fair which is happening on the 9th June.

Exhibition to Commemorate 80 years since the start of WW2

Running throughout the summer is an exhibition covering "Life on the Home Front" and the story of the Rayleigh men who fought.

13th June at 7.30pm

Magna Carta in Essex with Additional Snippets from the Essex Hundred Histories a talk and slide show by Andrew Summers

11th July at 7.30pm

"Barber Surgeon" a talk and demonstration by The Companye of Merrie Folke" A Medieval/Tudor re-enactment Group

8th August at 7.30pm

"A Murder Mystery Evening"

If you would like further information about any of the events above please contact the museum on 01268 773535 or visit our website

Chilton, The First Three-Thousand Years: 14th May 2019

It is quite surprising what can be discovered about an apparently ordinary subject if one puts one's mind to some careful research and this was demonstrated in David Burnett's talk to the Foxearth and District Local History Society on Tuesday 14th May. Who would have thought that the Sudbury district of Chilton could have such a wealth of history but the journey through time taken by David revealed evidence dating from Bronze Age settlements and many changes to the present day industrial estate. Excavations in 1997 produced signs of late Bronze age occupation, by post holes and ruts in the clay, and of later Iron age round houses. The discovery of a 7th century coptic bowl near Chilton Hall suggested a Saxon settlement. Nothing has been found to suggest any Roman involvement. An entry in the Domesday Book of 1086 describes a small village of about 11 men and 1 plough and in mediaeval times a number of lords held the manor of Chilton. St Mary's church in Chilton was built in the 15th century. Among various benefactors the church benefitted in 1430 from the will of Sir Andrew Butler.

A significant influence in Chilton seems to have been the Crane family whose five generations - from 1436 to 1643 - were responsible for the building of Chilton hall and improvements in the church. Each of the five was named Robert and each left their individual mark on the manor. Among the bequests by various Roberts were those for renovations of the church and the building of the tower, funds for the employment of a priest and for prayers and a daily mass to be said for 99 years and the completion of Chilton Hall in 1550. The last Robert was knighted by James 1st and served as MP for Sudbury for several periods. When he died in 1643 the baronetcy became extinct as he had no sons. The parish registers show that the sons of this dynasty had a very poor survival rate; the cause is not known but was possibly due to some inherited condition.

The village gradually declined and in about 1800 the Hall was badly damaged by a fire with the site being turned mostly to arable farming. By the late 19th century industry began to take over with brick works, lime pits. a corn mill and coconut matting factory; again fire caused rebuilding. The last rector of the church was Rev. John Milner who served from 1898 until 1949 after which the building was declared redundant. Chilton was important towards the end of World War 2 when an airfield was constructed in 1944 and used by the US Army Air Force as a bomber base.

Mr Burnett - who has published his book on Chilton, the first 3,000 years - illustrated his talk with many slides and gave much more interesting information than can be included in a brief report. He was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson supported by an appreciative audience of about 30.

Next meeting: Tuesday 11th June - a visit to Bulmer Brickyard when Peter Minter will talk about recent restoration projects. Please meet at the Brickyard at 7pm

Local History Notices for Essex: May 2019

From Christopher Thompson

Dr Anna Reynolds will be giving this year's guest lecture at the Friends of Thomas Plume's Library AGM this Friday 17 May 7.30pm The D'Arcy Room, All Saints Church, Maldon on 'Thomas Plume's Waste Paper'. All welcome. Free entry. Free refreshments.

Michael Sewell (University of Essex) published an essay on 'Remembering the Siege: Civil War Memory in Colchester' in The Journal of the Ever Present Society, Volume 10, Number 2, Pp.81-96, in October, 2017. It is available on-line.

Brodie Waddell (Birkbeck College, London) has an interesting discussion about the contents of the diary of Joseph Bufton, a Coggeshall trader, in the late seventeenth-century to be found at He also produced a longer account of Bufton's diary in The History Workshop Journal in 2018.

James E.Kelly published an important article entitled 'Counties without borders? Religious politics, kinship networks and the formation of Catholic Communities' dealing with the subscription of the Petre family to the Jesuit mission in late-Tudor and early-Stuart England in Historical Research in November, 2017. An abstract can be read here

The Rise and Decline of the Stour Valley Railways. 9th April 2019

The Foxearth and District Local History Society meeting on 9th April attracted railway enthusiasts when Robyn Lloyd Hughes talked about the rise and decline of the Stour Valley Railways. Between 35 and 40 members and guests heard an expert description of the origin of the line and of the development of railways in general.

The lecture included many photographs and Robyn began with one of some Roman gates. These were constructed to allow the passage of two centurions, side by side, with their baggage/weapons. Carts were then built of the same width and as these were used in the countryside uniform ruts would be created which in turn became supported by wooden planks (plateways); then iron was used for more strengthening. Along these reinforced routes horses could pull linked carts - and the idea of moving wagons along tracks was born. It took some 1,800 years of course but eventually we had railways! Stephenson's "rocket" of 1825 was the first engine.

The concept of a local rail network was the brainchild of John Wilks junior - a Sudbury lawyer born in 1793 who served as a Whig MP for the town.In 1824 he promoted a company called The Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex Railroad Company. He was however an unscrupulous character - involved in forgery and fraud - who earned the nickname of "Bubbles Wilks" because of the number of joint stock companies he floated all of which failed. In 1849 the businessman John Chevallier Cobbold was influential in constructing the line that linked up Colchester, the Stour Valley, Sudbury and Halstead; Norwich was later connected and the company amalgamated with the Eastern Union Railway. The project included the building of the Chappel Viaduct with its impressive 32 arches. At 1,020 feet it is the longest bridge in East Anglia and one of the largest brick-built structures in the country. There were many illustrations of locomotives in various stages of development and it was not unusual for them to be servicable for 50 years. For some years the railway did not dispense with "horse power" as the beasts continued to be used for shunting rolling stock into sheds. The Stour Valley Railway line from Shelford to Marks Tey opened in 1865 with connections to Melford and Bury St Edmunds following soon after. In 1967 the Beeching axe was wielded with just the Sudbury to Marks Tey section (the Gainsborough line) surviving after a protracted battle. Robyn presented some interesting fare comparisons. In 1849 the Sudbury to London single fare was 4 shillings and 10 pence equating to one penny a mile - this was for 2nd class travel with 1st class being half as much again; in 1956 the figure was 9 shillings and 3 pence and today it is £33.90! In 2004 the possibility of reopening the Cambridge to Haverhill route was raised and this is an ongoing campaign with local MPs voicing strong support more recently.

This was a fascinating talk in which Robyn demonstrated his detailed knowledge of the subject including the evolving types of locomotives over the years. He dealt expertly with some related questions and was warmly thanked on behalf of a most appreciative audience by Secretary Clare Mathieson.

Clare drew attention to the Lavenham Festival on the weekend of 17th to 19th May. There will be celebration of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the US Army Air Force at Lavenham airfield , a craft fair and various other attractions.

Next meeting: Tuesday 14th May at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when David Burnett will talk about Chilton - the first three thousand years.