The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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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

"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!