GESTINGTHORPE 'THEN & NOW' PHOTOGRAPHIC BOOK - COMING IN 2022
For a small village, Gestingthorpe has been remarkably blessed in the number of people who have researched its history. As far back as the early eighteenth century William Holman, a non-conformist clergyman from Halstead, was accumulating information about the parish’s manors which was to appear in Morant’s seminal ‘History of Essex’, published between 1763-1768.
Over a century later, in 1905, came the publication of Alfred Patchett’s History of Gestingthorpe. Seventy two pages in length, it traces the ownership of Gestingthorpe Hall, (Overhall), back to the Domesday Book of 1086. But his work includes much more: details of clergymen since the fourteenth century: translations of Medieval and Tudor wills; Poor Law records from the eighteenth century, a Perambulation of the parish bounds from 1803, a list of field names from the same decade and a synopsis of the more recent owners of Nether Hall, Odewells, the Moat and Parkgate Farm.
It would be fascinating to know more about Patchett. Who was he? Where did he live? What was his profession? Why did he do so much research on Gestingthorpe? All we know is that he died in 1902, leaving a widow, with his work on Gestingthorpe incomplete.
After his death, Patchett’s work was brought to fruition, by the Rector of Gestingthorpe, (Revd. C.T. Bromwich), together with C. Deedes, Prebendary of Chichester. It was then published by F.E.Robinson and Co of 20, Great Russell Street, London and priced at Two Shillings and Sixpence. (At the time farm workers earned about twelve shillings a week.)
Bromwich and Deedes also added some interesting snippets in an Appendix. These include details of an eighteenth century painting, known as ‘The Gestingthorpe Choir’. Additionally, they listed the names of those portrayed, enabling Andy Craig — almost miraculously — to identify the painting, on Philip Mould’s ‘Lockdown Podcast’, in April of this year.
One wonders how many copies of Patchett’s book were both printed—and sold. We are told that his, ‘enthusiasm was so great that some information had to be omitted - owing to space restrictions’. It is truly intriguing that such a comprehensive study was made of our parish. What was his particular association with Gestingthorpe? Had he been inspired by CFD Sperling whose equally pioneering History of Sudbury was published in 1896?
It is tempting to wonder if he was encouraged by Mrs. Oates. But no acknowledgment to her appears anywhere in the book. Nor can any donation or sponsorship payment be found in her Account Books from 1904-1906. (The lockdown has prevented researching the previous years, as the books are held at the Essex Records Office).
We may never know the full story of ‘How’ and ‘Why’ Patchett came to be involved. Family historians or genealogists might possibly provide some answers.
What we can say however, is that Holman’s and Morant’s—and especially Patchett’s works—together with Bromwich and Deedes’s more ‘human’ additions—are the foundation blocks of our recorded history. Upon them so much has been built.
In our previous Blog, we looked at Alfred Patchett’s pioneering ‘History of Gestingthorpe’, which was published in 1905. As mentioned, the latter is a genuinely remarkable book for a small village—and has long intrigued this writer.
Despite his voluminous researches on the parish however, we know very little about Patchett—other than that he died in 1902. We know nothing about his occupation, where he lived, is buried—or his association with the village. Neither do we know how the book was financed—or how the Rev. Canon C Deedes from Chichester came to be involved in completing Patchett’s work.
Fortunately, the Blog has stimulated a response! Researching the Church magazines of the time, Peter Nice has answered some of our questions. Patchett he discovered was a friend of the Gestingthorpe vicar, Rev C.T Bromwich. For in the magazine of April 1902, the latter wrote, ‘a friend of the Vicar’s, Mr Patchett is busily engaged on a history of Gestingthorpe.’ (Bromwich then continues by posing questions about Gestingthorpe that he invites his parishioners to answer for inclusion in the book.)
The magazines—which are a ‘gold mine’ of local detail—also reveal how Deedes, the Prebendary of Chicester Cathederal, came to be involved. It is quite simple. He had previously been the rector of neighbouring Wickham St. Pauls!
After Patchett’s death, Bromwich doubtless contacted his erstwhile neighbour for assistance. In the issue of January 1905, we learn that Deedes had recently spent a week at Gestingthorpe—presumably with Bromwich— ‘that we might go through Mr Patchett’s manuscripts.’
In the edition of March 1905, Bromwich acknowledges that without Deedes’s ‘valuable assistance and immense amount of time and trouble ‘, the book could not have been brought out.’
Finally, the magazine reveals who paid for the book to be printed… It was Mrs. Patchett, widow of the author, who paid the entire expense. (This is a breakthrough. We had previously searched for a public subscription or an Oates connection.) Mrs Patchett we are told, ‘knows that it was her husbands wish that the book should be printed…’
In the following month, Bromwich—without whom the book might never have been written either—announces that the book is now published. It is on sale at ‘half a crown’ and can be obtained from Mr. Carter in High Street, Halstead or from Mr Marten on the Market hill, Sudbury. (Long standing residents will recall Marten’s the printers; whose shop was almost opposite St Peter’s Church.)
Thus, we have it! With Peter’s help three mysteries have been solved. There is one more to go! It would be most rewarding to know where Patchett lived—and was buried. As mentioned, we know that he died in 1902… Maybe an Ancestry enthusiast can help us?
In recognising Rev. Bromwich’s role in recording Gestingthorpe’s history, it is exciting to mention another discovery Peter made.
It is a book, which Peter purchased from an internet bookseller some years ago. The name of the book? ‘How to Write the History of a Parish.’ The author was a J.C Cox.
The edition Peter purchased was dated 1895. And it’s significance to this blog? On the inside page is an embossed address. It reads… ‘The Vicarage, Gestingthorpe, Halstead, Essex.’
Almost certainly it once belonged to Bromwich who resided here from1887-1917. Almost certainly it then inspired him to involve Patchett —and was the embryo of everything else that he, and others, subsequently achieved.
Thank you then, to our Edwardian historians, Alfred Patchett, and Reverends Deedes and Bromwich, for writing the ‘foundation block’ of Gestingthorpe’s history—before the village had electricity or telephones.
And thank you to Peter, for sharing your twenty first century, internet discovery with us! It is another addition to the parish’s rich, ‘ten thousand piece’, historical jig-saw!
The book that may have inspired the first History of Gestingthorpe.
In our last Blog we paid tribute to Messrs. Patchett, Deedes and Bromwich for their efforts in producing the first history of Gestingthorpe in 1905.
Another pivotal contribution to understanding the village’s past came thirty-nine years later in 1944, with Alfred Hills’s work on ‘The Gestingthorpe Pot Works.’
Originally printed in the Essex Review of 1944, it was subsequently published as a small ten-page booklet.
War-time conditions prevailed. The bare brown cover and small font size are surely a consequence of restrictions on paper use. Hills reveals that one piece of Gestingthorpe ware had to be, ‘brought from its war-time retreat in the midlands’, back to its normal home at Manchester Art Gallery to be photographed.
Despite the privations however, Hills manages to include images of seven complete Gestingthorpe pieces. Another of them—a three handled ‘harvest pitcher’—is at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, five are at Colchester Castle Museum, whilst the last is at St. Andrew’s Church, Halstead.
The latter, Hills tells us, was made in 1658. It held four and a half gallons and was carried around the town by the bell ringers on New Years Eve. During its perambulation, beer, wine and spirits were poured in by the townsfolk to fortify the ringers as they rang in the New Year!
One marvels at Hills—not just for his dedication in tracking down the extant examples, but also for his background knowledge. He tells us how the glazes changed over the centuries; he lists the types of products produced—such as ‘glazed dishes, pans and pitchers for dairies, vessels for pickling pork and specially decorated pots and puzzle jugs.’ He mentions some of the potters—including those with ‘great Gestingthorpe names’ like Rippingale and Finch.
George Finch’s horse-drawn van we learn, sold his wares on rounds through Suffolk, to Dunmow and Chelmsford, each round involving an absence of three days and two nights from Gestingthorpe.
He explains too, that the large ‘Harvest Pitchers’—with their three handles—were used on local farms to celebrate the harvest home, reminding us of the horkey in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd!
Finally, Hills pays tribute to the famous Castle Hedingham potter, Edward Bingham. He includes the very first photograph of him ever published; he reminds us too, that Bingham’s father had worked at the Gestingthorpe Pot Works, arriving here from Blackheath when Edward was five and that Edward had trained here too.
Hills work is so comprehensive that one inevitably wonders about him too. Who was he? Where did he come from?
Thankfully Adrian Corder-Birch, the Patron of Halstead History Society has established that Hills was born in 1874, lived as a child in Colne Engaine and later qualified as a solicitor. He married in 1905, lived in Bocking, had five children and held a wide range of public posts, such as Clerk to Braintree District Council and the Board of Guardians.
As a historian, he contributed over fifty articles to the Essex Review. These included ‘John Bunyan in Bocking’, ‘Dialect and Essex Sport,’ ‘The Ape in Essex Heraldry’ ‘Essex Manor Customs’ and …. ‘The Gestingthorpe Pot Works.’
How fortunate we are—that amongst everything else—Hills wrote his account of the Pot Works—and included some human memories too. Like Patchett’s publication before him, Hills’s pamphlet is an oft-referred to Bible for anyone researching this strand of our village’s history. Thank goodness he wrote it! We would know so much less without it.
Alfred Hills’s indispensable record—published during the Second World War.
The 1944 April edition of The Essex Review.
In our last President’s Blog, we paid tribute to Alfred Hills the Braintree solicitor and historian who wrote the history of Gestingthorpe Pot Works. (Hills incidentally was also the co-founder of ‘Holmes and Hills’, the legal firm, who now have offices in six local towns including Braintree, Halstead and Sudbury.)
We also praised Alfred Patchett’s pioneering History of Gestingthorpe. Published in 1905, three years after Patchett’s death, it was brought to fruition by Reverends Bromwich and Deedes.
In a postscript Deedes also records that Caroline Oates had allowed him to look at the Manorial Court Records from Overhall, (now Gestingthorpe Hall), ‘at her London home’.
In a two page synopsis, Deedes tells us that the earliest manuscripts date from 1446; that the Courts were held each spring, (on the ‘Vigil of St Phillip and St James’), where fairly mundane issues such as property transactions, or minor offences were dealt with. Amongst the latter were Gestingthorpe residents who, ‘…failed to scour their ditches; allowed water to accumulate on the King’s Highway; neglected to clip their hedges, or harboured undesirable tenants who behaved in a disorderly manner. Penalties from sixpence to five shillings were threatened.’
‘What else might be discovered amongst the Latin manuscripts?’ Deedes’ readers must have wondered. ‘What other glimpses of Gestingthorpe in medieval and Tudor times might be revealed?
For forty years they were no wiser. Thankfully however, we now know. For this we are entirely grateful to the late Violet Oates, (1881-1966). It was Violet who paid for them to be translated from Latin into English—revealing some rich and amusing incidents from our village’s past.
Violet deserves some mention. She was Captain Oates’s younger sister, who remained at the Hall, unmarried, for some ten years after her mother’s death. In the 1930’s when President of Gestingthorpe Women’s Institute, she wrote an essay on the village in Victorian times. (See blog of 24th March, 2020.) In her younger days she painted some delightful water colour scenes of the village—which can also be viewed elsewhere on this website.
By 1945 she was probably aware that she would soon be selling the Hall. Possibly this brought the manuscripts to light again, during discussions with her solicitor. Maybe she was stimulated by Hills’s work on the Pot Works, which was published the year before. We don’t know. Only one thing is certain. Violet contacted a Rev. John L Fisher of Nettleswell Rectory, Harlow—and asked him to undertake their translation.
Fisher—like Hills and Oates—was a member of Essex Archaeological Society. (Reiterating the thought that Hills’s work might have influenced her.) Fortunately Fisher agreed to undertake the work, before the documents were deposited in Essex Records Office. Their correspondence, which began on 17th January 1945, makes interesting reading—and I am grateful that it has recently been shown to me.
The Second World War still raged and paper was rationed. On February 17th, Fisher remarks that, "(getting) paper is a difficulty—if you can supply some it would be a great help.."
Possibly as a consequence, his letters are written with a spidery hand on thin, tissue-like material. In early September he laments that he is unable to find a typist. On the 26th he discloses that most of the sixteenth and some of the seventeenth century rolls have been translated. Violet consequently received all the translations—not typed—but in ‘longhand.’ After selling the Hall, Violet then ensured that a ‘longhand’ copy remained in the village.
The following glimpses come from this writer’s earlier work The Long Furrow.
In 1519, Henry Hale—whose descendants may have appeared in the painting of the ‘Gestingthorpe Choir’—was ordered to clear his ‘clogged watercourse’.
A couple of years later the court declared that:
‘Anna (the wife of John Foster), keeps a common inn for vagabonds and others of bad and riotous behaviour. (She) keeps bad and unlawful rule in her house at night….it is ordered that she do so no more under penalty of 20 shillings.’
In 1526, the inhabitants of Gestingthorpe were instructed to, ‘make a pair of butts to encourage shooting with the long bow;’ The following year we read that;
‘The townsmen of Gestingthorpe have not made the butts as ordered—and therefore incur a penalty of 3s 4d.’
Similarly, at this—and subsequent courts—the Hale family are again instructed to clear their ditches. Despite occurring in the decades before Shakespeare’s birth, the rural life which the Court rolls portray has a definite Falstaffian flavour….
In 1538, it was recorded that:
‘Thomas Parker keeps a certain servant girl called Agnes Wheeler. (She) is a great nuisance to the neighbours both by her tongue and her hands; striking and killing their geese and poultry. He is ordered to get rid of her by Whitsuntide.’
At the Court of 1542, the jury announced that:
‘Edmund Fletcher, farmer of the Vicarage, is a nuisance to his neighbours by letting his pigs and cattle stray at large on the highways and elsewhere.’
In 1563, we are told that,
‘John Sache assaulted Robert Mascyall and struck him on the head with a stone and drew blood against the Queen’s peace, therefore he is fined 20d.
One wonders where the assault took place? In which part of Gestingthorpe was ‘Anna Foster’s common inn for vagabonds? Beside which lane was Thomas Parker’s house—where his servant girl upset his neighbours?
One place we can probably identify is Pound farm, (which is situated beside the Cross Roads). For we also read that...
‘A ewe lamb has been a stray within the manor for a year and a day (and more). It is not yet claimed. Valued at 16 pence.’
In the meantime, we look up to the heavens and thank Violet Oates. She may not—strictly speaking—have been a historian in her own right. However she realised the importance of her manuscripts, had them translated and then arranged their safekeeping for future generations.
Due to her, we also have a wonderful picture of rural life—in Gestingthorpe—during the politically tumultuous reigns of Henry 8th, Edward 6th, Mary and Elizabeth 1st.
Violet Oates, younger sister to Captain Oates.
In the same decade that Alfred Hills wrote his account of the Gestingthorpe Pot Works and Violet Oates paid for the translation of Overhall’s manorial records, another major aspect of the village’s history was revealed.
It was the discovery - by farmer Harold Cooper, of a significant Roman settlement near Wiggery Wood. But how, readers might ask, was the discovery made?
Harold had bought Hill Farm in 1945. Cort Filed was particularly weedy. Without herbicides to assist, Harold had grown a crop of kale to ‘clean’ it. After harvesting the kale seed, the stalks were too dense to ‘plough in’. An extra deep-digger plough had to be hired. It was hooked onto a John Deere tractor by Jack Mann of Belchamp Walter.
Later that day Harold walked up to inspect progress. There had just been a light shower. As he approached, the field appeared to turn red, as the rays from the setting sun behind him, lit up a wide scatter of red tile. Harold took a sample to Colchester Castle Museum. The curator identified them as Roman…..he also suggested that Harold conduct a trial excavation.
Guided by professional archaeologists, Harold thereafter made it his life’s passion to reveal the existence of a Roman villa, farm buildings, craftsmen’s workshops and living huts on Cort Field. It was painstaking work. There were no mechanical apparatus to help. He wore out two spades and two trowels in the process.
The villa itself was an enormous building. It measured approximately 18 by 36 metres and contained both a Bath Block and a hypocaust-heated room. Amidst the typical red roman roof tiles was also a white tile—possibly coming from the same source of clay that produced Gestingthorpe’s white bricks in the nineteenth century.
Indeed some of Harold’s most significant discoveries were also made of clay. They were fragments of a small mould, seemingly mundane and unexciting. Yet they were the very first evidence, that the ‘lost wax process’ was being used to make bronze statuettes in Roman Britain.
Although the villa-complex was unquestionably the dominant Roman settlement in the vicinity, many other Romano-British farmsteads must have existed in the area. Quite possibly their inhabitants came to the villa-complex, to buy and sell goods at the market, socialise with friends or celebrate religious festivals.
It is tempting to think that the objects made by the bronze-worker might have been sold to travellers who came along the roman road that linked Chelmsford, Braintree, Gestingthorpe, Long Melford and Norfolk.
A full report on the excavations was published in 1985. (Excavations at Hill Farm, Gestingthorpe, Essex. Published by East Anglian Archaeology no. 25.) Yet mysteries also remain. No graveyard or cemetery has yet been located. Nor has the precise position of the water supply. A new ‘geophysics’ survey of the site is planned for autumn 2021. Let us hope that these, ‘missing pieces in our roman jigsaw’ will one day be found!
In the meantime we can stand on the footpaths overlooking the now deserted field. With our eyes half-closed we can imagine Roman Gestingthorpe as it might have appeared eighteen hundred years ago. We can hear the ring of the blacksmith’s hammer as billhooks and axes were made for the villa’s estate; we can hear the lowing of cattle and grunt of swine from the farmyard close to Wiggery Wood; we can picture the coins of Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius or Constantine changing hands at the market; we can imagine the gurgles of new born babes—possibly given names like Marcellus, Longinus, Octavia or Livia; we can hear hoof beats as an imperial messenger gallops along the road; we can see the Lady of the villa working in her herb garden as slaves carry faggots into the bath block. As dusk falls we can imagine the tending of cooking fires and on ‘full moon nights’ the gathering of friends from surrounding farmsteads together with the rattle of chariot wheels as villa owners come from further afield….
All this is possible because of the identification of those first roman roof tiles in 1948 and the subsequent work of Harold Cooper and a small handful of helpers—at a time when archaeology was not remotely as appreciated as it is today.
Well Done Dad!
(For more on Gestingthorpe Roman villa see the much longer article on this website—in the section devoted to the Romans.)
Harold discovering the first roman roof tiles in 1948. (Artwork Ben Perkins. Strictly copyright).
Harold, looking over his beloved ‘Cort Field.’ He was fond of saying, ‘Keep your eyes open as you walk about!’
In 1975 the village was blessed again, when Basil Slaughter the head teacher at Bulmer School arranged a series of unforgettable lectures in Gestingthorpe Village Hall, together with Dr. Arthur Brown of Essex University.
A true pioneer of ‘oral and local history’, years before it was fashionable, Basil interviewed older residents of the village and borrowed photographs from them. After making slides of the photographs he showed them to a packed village Hall, over several evenings in May and June, as he gathered more memories from those who were present.
At the conclusion of the lectures, Basil produced brief notes on the parish, which have recently been posted on this website—but were further ‘building blocks’ at the time.
Holding similar evenings in Wickham St. Paul’s and Bulmer, Basil recorded a number of people—including Bluffy Rippingale of Gestingthorpe—on his ‘reel to reel’ tape recorder. It was Basil who inspired this writer to similarly interview long standing residents and produce a number of books, which include Gestingthorpe, if not being exclusively about it.
At the same time moreover, Basil was also encouraging others to research the finer details of Gestingthorpe’s history. They will be the subject of our next President’s Blog.
The late Basil Slaughter. The Head Teacher at Bulmer School.
In our last article we paid tribute to the late Basil Slaughter for fostering our interest in local history. In 1981, Doreen Desmond, a member of Bulmer History Group, initiated another outstanding project. It was to clean all of the gravestones in a number of local churchyards. She then recorded all their details before weathering rendered them illegible. For the Gestingthorpe survey, Doreen recruited three ladies from the village to help her. They were Jean Fox Ward, Betty Meekings and Jean Saggers.
Armed with soft brushes, washing up liquid, water, secateurs, tape measures, talcum powder, magnifying glasses and clipboards their painstaking work continued for some years. Devoting hours of dedicated persistence, their labours resulted in another treasure trove of information.
Due to their hard work, we know that the oldest legible gravestone in Gestingthorpe graveyard is that of, ‘Eliazabeth Partridge who died in May 1702.’ The longest living resident recorded in their survey was Joseph Hale, who ‘died in 1793, in the 100 year (sic) of his Age’.
By the late eighteenth century when Joseph died, gravestones were bearing poetic epitaphs. When Mary Nice from Hill Farm passed away aged twenty, in 1811, her grieving parents paid for a twelve line verse which included the plaintive lines…
‘Cropped like a flower she withered in her bloom,
Tho flattering life had promised years to come,’
The stern warnings of life’s brevity continue. George Gray, ‘Departed this life on November 11th, 1816. In the tenth year of his age’ Any contemporaries who visited his grave, near the northern wall of the Church, would see the following injunction amidst the soft grass.
‘Youths—prepare your selves to die
Life is short and Death is nigh….
Other verses provide insights into people’s lives. Jemima Rayner of Ellises Farm was clearly unwell for some while. Her husband Samuel had the following verse inscribed, after she died in 1826, aged 44.
‘Afflictions sore long time she bore,
Physicians were in vain
Til CHRIST was pleased to give her ease
And rid her of her pain.’
William Weybrew died in 1820 aged 62 at the Compasses Inn. His headstone reveals,
‘Here lies a Father kind and Husband dear,
Who in his life affliction long did bear…’
In our last Blog we looked at some epitaphs on the gravestones in Gestingthorpe Church yard. Like today ill health can strike quickly. On the tomb of George Downs (d.1841) is inscribed, ‘Awfully sudden was the change of an affectionate husband…’
There are headstones too, that remind us of the First and Second World Wars. The memorial to Walter Nice of the Royal Engineers, who lost his life on 29th April, 1918, is found close to the Rectory garden; so too is that of Sybil B. Downs V.A.D, who died on 11th May, 1917.
A ‘book shaped’ headstone to the east of the Church commemorates Donald Meeking with the words,’ Sgt D.W. Meeking, R.A.F. V.R. Missing on Air Operations 12th Feb. 1942 aged 19 years….’
Biblical quotations and Christian hope appear on many memorials. James Rayner died at the age of 17, in 1824. His epitaph ends with two lines that appear on at least two other gravestones at St Mary’s;
‘Short was my time the Longer is my rest
God called me because he thought it best
Therefore dear friends, lament for me no more
I am not lost but gone awhile before.’
Within a couple of decades most of the epitaphs had become more Biblical.
A number of lengthy marriages are commemorated. Alfred and Jane Fitch died in 1918, ‘within 6 weeks of each other, after having lived together for over 51 years.’
Of Joseph Hale, who lived to his hundredth year we learn that Sarah his wife, lived to be 88 and that, ‘This remarkable couple lived in Conjugal Felicity 63 years.’ Yet Joseph’s tomb reveals an almost inevitable sadness. Sarah predeceased him, as did his daughter in law and son, the latter dying five days before him on February 22nd, 1793.
Professions are proudly announced—as is the sense of community identity. John Carter of Old Church Cottages, who died in 1844, had been, ‘29 years Clerk of this Parish.’ (sic).
John Rayner (d.1777) of Netherstreet Farm, was commemorated as ‘Brickmaker of this Parish.’ So too were John Rayner senior and a third John Rayner who died in 1846 aged 76.
The most emphatic declaration however is seen on a coped stone, close to the wall with the Village Hall. It bears the name John Downs. Beneath it is the strident proclamation ‘IRON FOUNDER’. (It is such a commanding statement that it almost deserves an exclamation mark!). Other family memorials likewise refer to him as ‘Iron Founder of this Parish’. (His premises were close to the crossroads, on either side of the road to Little Yeldham and still commemorated in the name of Foundry House).
From over 220 gravestones that Doreen and her team examined between 1981 and 1988, when their survey was complete, the name Downs’s was recorded 35 times. Similarly,
Rayner occurred 19 times,
(This above is not an accurate reflection of the village’s surnames, but rather indicates those—especially in Victorian times—who could afford to purchase headstones. Many headstones, of course, record more than one person.)
William and Elizabeth, Doreen’s team established, were the most common male and female first names in Gestingthorpe Churchyard. They also revealed some less usual names however, such as ‘Trethusa’, Carter, who died in 1766, ‘Ablinia’ Downs (d.1931) and a ‘Mehetable’ Rayner who passed away in 1869. (Mehetable can be found in the Old Testament and also appears as a second name in Gestingthorpe.*)
In her summary Doreen tells us that Cecil Pannell and his sister Dorrie produced, ‘a truly excellent plan, checked every grave’ and provided much additional historical information’, before recalling some of the discomforts of the research.
Like papers being blown over the Churchyard, nettled hands and legs, kneeling on wet grass…and the grime and smell which becomes engrained in ones hands from handling wet gravestones….But there were many sunny days, and there are few places more pleasant to spend a fine afternoon than Gestingthorpe Churchyard. Moreover,’ Doreen concluded, ‘we all became quite enthralled with the names, the tragedies and the stories that unfolded from the inscriptions we read.’
So too have we. Their seven year project has produced another fascinating building block in Gestingthorpe’s history. We offer again our heartfelt gratitude to Doreen Desmond and her willing team of Jean Saggers, Betty Meekings and Jean Fox-Ward.
*Sarah Mehetable Downs was the first wife of John Downs of Ashley Cottage, (not John Downs the iron founder). The former then married a Wilhelmina Sophia. Another unusual name appears on a small headstone which records an Ablinia Downs. The latter died in 1931, the widow of Charles Downs, (d.1919).
Many of the oldest gravestones are to the east of the Chancel window.
The tomb of George Downs who had lived at Crouch House. It was often necessary for the Recording team to remove ivy or brambles before the cleaning and recording could commence.
One of Gestingthorpe’s most devoted researchers was the late Dorrie Pannell. The Parish’s official ‘History Recorder’, Dorrie devoted years of her spare time to compiling ‘house histories’ of many properties in the village and also collecting—and annotating—any old photographs of the village that she could find. All of her research was then typed up and left in impeccable order.
At a time when the smallest nuggets of information might require lengthy visits to the Essex Record Office, or the writing of innumerable letters, Dorrie’s research was always meticulous and comprehensive. Some has now been published on the website—much more remains to come forth. All of it will be enormously appreciated by village and family historians.
Her albums of Gestingthorpe photographs, together with others loaned by the Nice family, were the bedrock upon which the website’s superb photographic collection was originally built.
As the decades rolled forward, others continued to enhance our knowledge. Adrian Corder Birch, past Chairman and now Patron of Halstead and District Historical Society, enlightened us with his knowledge of local brick and pottery making, together with the Corder families association with the village and much other additional information.
Church Guides have similarly been produced. Initially by the Revd. Kenneth Belben; more recently by Tony Dagnal in conjunction with Frank Nice, Cecil Pannell and others. Likewise, biographies of Captain Oates have also shed light on the village. The first, published in 1982 was co-authored by Sue Limb, who had known Captain Oates’ sister Violet when the latter lived at Liston.*
*Captain Oates—Soldier and Explorer, by Sue Limb and Patrick Cordingley, published by Batsford, 1982.
I Am Just Going Outside—Captain Oates—Antarctic Tragedy, by Michael Smith, published by Spellmount Ltd, 2002
Dorrie Pannell’s brother Cecil standing in front of the ‘Wheelum bier’ used for conveying coffins.
Other informative glimpses of Gestingthorpe’s past came from Tom Hastie’s wonderful research with old newspapers.
A retired farm worker from Foxearth, Tom dedicated his senior years to repeatedly visiting the West Suffolk Record Office, in Bury St Edmunds. It is here that copies of early newspapers, such as the Ipswich Journal from 1739, are kept on film. Viewing them through a ‘microfiche’ film reader, he painstakingly wrote down innumerable references to many local villages—including Gestingthorpe—before typing them up. His selections, from the following two centuries, include the mundane, tragic and colourful—but always enlightening—aspects of local life.
Amidst the rich tapestry of human life which Tom’s researches revealed, he also recorded local outbreaks of smallpox and typhoid. He can never have imagined however that a pandemic like Covid 19 would occur just a few years after he passed away.
Tom's wider research is available by visiting the Foxearth and District Local History Society website at www.foxearth.org.uk
Tom Hastie, reading some of the fascinating glimpses of local life he gleaned from early newspapers.
Tom deliberately looked out for Gestingthorpe references to assist this author. He was especially helpful in finding details of the two accidents that resulted in ‘our local hero’, Henry Cook losing both of his hands. Tom also discovered an excerpt which mentioned Henry’s entry into a ploughing match in Gestingthorpe in 1912.
With the arrival of Covid 19 last spring, a new phase of our history began. Devastating and destructive, it reminds us of the epidemics of past centuries. Of local significance was the suffering experienced in both Braintree and Colchester during the plague of 1665. The fatalities are almost too grim to read. In Braintree it is believed that 865 people died out of a population of 2300*. Colchester witnessed at least 4526 deaths out of a population of around 9000**. Three hundred years earlier, one in three residents of Little Cornard died in the Black Death of 1348
Gestingthorpe would have been all too aware of the seventeenth century plague that was ravaging nearby towns. However it was the Black Death, when fatalities in the village are likely to have mirrored the devastating ‘one in three’ experienced in Little Cornard.
Despite the dire consequences of CV 19, there have also been some uplifting aspects. In Gestingthorpe it is undoubtedly the time that it has allowed Andy Craig to so expand this fantastic website. In doing so, he has enabled a world- wide audience, to enjoy fascinating old photographs, human memorabilia and painstaking research that could so easily have been lost, or left mouldering in cupboards or attics.
One senses that all of our past researchers, Alfred Patchett, Basil Slaughter, Dorrie Pannell, Frank Nice and Tom Hastie, will be smiling benignly in the knowledge that their research is now being so abundantly shared. Years, decades after their own lives ended, the fruits of their dedication is reaching audiences they can never have imagined.
As we ‘bunker down’ for the current Lockdown, ever more people are finding fulfilment in exploring these pages.
On behalf of all the Website’s followers, may I thank Andy Craig for everything he has done in the past year—and to wish him—and the Website every success in the future.
* From ‘A Brief History of Braintree’, published by Braintree Museum. www.braintreemuseum.co.uk
** Essex Records Office document D/P 200/1/6. The latter is quoted in an excellent article, ‘The Great Plague of Colchester and London’, by Elaine Barker, published by Mersea Museum at www.merseamuseum.org.uk
No list of names with a passion for local history would EVER be complete without an entry for our president Ashley Cooper, a working farmer awarded the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group 'Silver Lapwing' award in 2014 (the Silver Lapwing Award event, now in its 44th year, celebrates the efforts of farmers and landowners who demonstrate outstanding commitment to conservation and environmental management within commercially-successful farming enterprises). Together with writing his books 'The Long Furrow', 'The Khyber Connection', 'Heart of our History, 'Our Mother Earth' and the fictitious 'Tales of Woodland and Harvest' he was a driving force in establishing the Gestingthorpe History Group over 10 years ago. Honorary Patron of Gestingthorpe Cricket Club, President of the Sudbury branch of the Parkinson's Disease Society and Chairman of Gestingthorpe Educational Foundation and Bulmer History Group. His ability to hold a room during one of his many and varied talks about the stour valley, local heroes and villains or his knowledge of the tragic Scott Antarctic expedition of 1912 are something to behold.
The private museum he set up with his father over 40 years ago is full to the brim with historic machinery and archeological finds from the fields he works going back over 2,000 years.
Like the bricks that were made from the earth of Gestingthorpe - a wall is only as strong as its foundations, and I thank Ashley for all of his continued support and encouragement as we discover new and exciting leads into the history and development of our village.
Andy Craig (GHG Chair)
Tom Hastie, reading some of the fascinating glimpses of local life he gleaned from early newspapers.
Benjamin Perkins’s depiction of the plague in London as described by Samuel Pepys. (Strictly copyright)