Exactly two years ago this week, I created this blog and published my very first post – a verbatim transcript of the first page of the 1520s financial accounts of a church: the churchwardens’ accounts of Great Dunmow, a small town in Essex. Not a dry dusty document consisting of monetary figures, but a living breathing document which opened up to the modern reader, some small insight into the workings of an East Anglian town, during the turbulent reign of Henry VIII and his children.
Local History of a small East Anglian town
My initial post came-about because originally, my blog’s sole purpose was to publish some of my research for my dissertation ‘Religion and Society in Great Dunmow, Essex, c.1520 to c.1560′ from my Cambridge University’s Masters of Studies in Local and Regional history awarded to me in January 2012 (sadly, the degree no longer appears to be running). Before creating my blog, I had decided that I wanted to record for myself a semi-permanent record of the results of the research I undertook for my dissertation, along with verbatim transcripts of Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts – an incredible primary source dating from the 1520s which formed much of the basis of my dissertation.
So my blog was created for purely self-indulgent purposes of furthering some of my dissertation’s research and recording some of the research I had already carried out. However, to my surprise, I found that as I started to write more and more posts, I began to collect a great many readers from all over the world who appeared to enjoy my posts and were interested in my research. So I carried on researching and writing posts about Great Dunmow to be shared with you, my readers.
Here are some of my posts based on my dissertation’s research:-
– Great Dunmow’s churchwarden accounts 1526-1621
– Reformation Wills and Religious bequests
– The only Welshman in the village – a Tudor Conundrum
– Balancing your books in pounds, shillings and pence
– Plough Monday: a medieval tradition
– Thomas Bowyer, weaver and martyr of Great Dunmow
– Queen Elizabeth I’s Visit to Great Dunmow – Part 1
– Queen Elizabeth I’s Visit to Great Dunmow – Part 2
– Church bells and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry
– Building a late medieval church steeple
– Great Dunmow’s Tudor dialect
– Sturton family of Tudor Great Dunmow and Great Easton
– Henry VIII’s 1523-4 Lay Subsidy Tax
– Tudor Tradesmen of Great Dunmow
– Clergy of pre-Reformation England
– Christmas in a Tudor town
Tent design for the Field of Cloth of Gold (1520), shelfmark: Cotton Ms. Augustus III. 18, ©British Library Board. Henry VIII’s 1523-4 Lay Subsidy taxation was used to raise money for his wars with France.
Local Essex history and the First World War
Previously to my masters research in Tudor Great Dunmow, I had spent many years researching the men of Great Dunmow who had marched away to war in distant lands during the years of 1914 to 1918, never to return. Families and localities torn apart by wars fought in far distant lands – far away from the rural peace of East Anglia. I decided to include my research into these stories onto my blog too. By using contemporary postcards of the time, I have been able to retell the stories of many men of Essex – including my own ancestors, my grandfather’s cousins, the Kemps of Great Dunmow.
Here are some of my posts about Great Dunmow and the First World War:-
– Great Dunmow’s Military Funeral: A follow-up
– War and Remembrance: It’s a long way to Tipperary
– War and Remembrance: Great Dunmow’s Emergency Committee
– War and Remembrance: Great Dunmow’s Military Funeral 1914
– Postcard home from the front – The Camera never lies
– Postcards from the Front – from your loving son
– Memorial Tablet – I died in hell
– Memorial Tablet – I died of starvation
– Memorial Tablet – I died of wounds
– The Willett family of Great Dunmow
– Postcard from the Front – To my dear wife and sonny
– War and Remembrance – The Making of a War Memorial
– Great Dunmow’s Roll of Honour
– For the Fallen
– Christmas Greetings from the trenches 1914-1918
Gordon Parnall Kemp – my grandfather’s cousin – in the early 1900s, before he was killed amongst the mud and horror of the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. His father, James Nelson Kemp, a respected publican in Great Dunmow is standing in the doorway of his pub, the Royal Oak.
Victorian and 20th century history of Great Dunmow
My research into Great Dunmow in the First World War naturally led me into researching other aspects of the town’s Victorian and Twentieth Century history:-
Here are some of my posts based on this research:-
– Bringing home the bacon: the Dunmow Flitch Bacon Factory
– Interwar Great Dunmow from the air
– Berbice House School, Great Dunmow
– The Victorian Children of Great Dunmow
– The Victorian Gentleman of Great Dunmow
– The Victorian Ladies of Great Dunmow
– The Dunmow Flitch Trials 2012
– The Dunmow Flitch: Bringing home the bacon
Local history of Essex’s past
My dissertation wasn’t my first adventure into the past of Essex – the county which I have lived in for exactly half my life and nearly all my adult life. I had long been researching various other aspects of Essex life and during the last two years published on my blog some of that research. I have many many more articles lingering on my computer written during my time in Essex – I need to dust them off and polish them up so that I can then publish them here – which I hope to do over the coming months.
The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches. Arreigned and by iustice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex,
(Joan Cunny, Joan Upney and Joan Prentice) (1589)
The wider historical context
Of course, any micro-historical study of a tiny aspect of local history also has to consider the wider environment. The events of 16th Century Great Dunmow and Essex did not happen in isolation: they were a result of the actions and edicts of the Tudor kings and queens. So on my blog, I have posted articles about the kings and queens of fifteenth and sixteenth century England.
Here are some of my posts I wrote about the English kings & queens:-
– 28 January: A remarkable date in Tudor history
– British Costumes in the time of Henry VII and Henry VIII
– Arthur – Prince of Wales
– Tudor Coronations
– Images of a king: Henry VIII in love
– Elizabeth of York
Medieval illuminated manuscripts
Whilst researching some of my posts on the Tudors, I also discovered some of the most beautiful primary sources in existence: exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts.
Here are some of my posts sharing with you the illuminated manuscripts of the medieval world:-
– Medieval manuscripts: The Macclesfield Psalter
– The sinful hermit
– The Medieval Spinsters
– The cats of the Macclesfield psalter
– The snail and the knight
– Images of medieval cats
‘Cat in a tower, throwing stones down at attacking mice’ from Book of Hours
(S.E. England, c1320-c1330), shelfmark Harley 6563 f. 72, © British Library Board.
This has been the most shared image from my entire blog.
School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged
Unknown to me, at the same time of creating my blog, my small son’s time at one of Essex’s oldest public schools was coming to a disastrous and awful end because of his severe dyslexia. To cut a very long and painful story short, I removed him from the school, home educated him for over a year whilst fighting my local educational authority through the courts to make them provide him with an education he could access. This resulted in two highly stressful Tribunals within a 10 month period – with one going to a full contested Hearing consisting of expert witnesses and a leading educational barrister, in front of a Judge and Panel, to decide my son’s educational future. Fortunately the Judge agreed with myself and all the experts (which ironically included the local authority’s own experts) and my son is now in a tiny wonderful school which specialises in children with dyslexia and other related educational needs. (If you told me two years ago that I would have to go to a court of law, and instruct solicitors and barristers to enable my son to have an education, I would have laughed at such a ridiculous notion. I know better now.)
I can honestly say that this was one of the most stressful and painful experiences of my entire life – not only having to come to terms with the extent of my son’s disabilities, but also because of the appalling manner the local education authority conducted themselves during this time. This is not the place to document this awful experience – suffice to say that it is now in the hands of the Local Government Ombudsman who have launched an official investigation against the local education authority into my son’s case. The appalling and morally corrupt process in this country for making local authorities put in place an education a child with special educational needs can access, has left me a fervent campaigner about the rights of disabled children, and their right to an education. A basic right most people think as a “given”- but which is sadly not for many thousands of disabled children in this country. You may have seen me on Twitter commenting on this.
During my fight for my child, I came to hate the very name of my blog because the very county I loved so much and whose history I had written about with such great affection, had turned in on myself and my son. Unfortunately, despite having national laws protecting vulnerable children, these laws are very much open to interpretation by the local authority in which the child lives – an accessible education for a disabled child really is a post-code lottery. At the height of my fight, after being told to leave Essex by my barrister and move to a local authority which treated children with special educational needs better, I hated Essex so very much that I was determined to destroy my blog, all my research and all my postcards and sources I have about Essex. But fortunately, I realised in time that this would be a foolish knee-jerk action and would only hurt myself and other Essex historians. The self-serving department within Essex County Council that my action would have been aimed at are far too ignorant to have cared one jot.
However, one bright point in this horrendous situation was personally teaching my son to love history. One of his teachers at his previous school unkindly told me that my son was “academically challenged”. It was with her words ringing in my ears that I decided to blog about teaching my son a love for history: School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged. During our year together, my son (and I!) learnt a great deal about our great country’s history. There’s not many small children who can boast that they have personally visited the site of Richard III’s burial under a council car park in Leicester! I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my love of history with my son by way of our field trips, and then writing about our visits to share with you. Whilst he cannot read my posts on my blog, he takes great interest in what I write and we often sit together looking at the photos on this blog of our trips around England. Ultimately, we went on many more trips then I had time to write-up – I was also working part-time whilst home educating him during this period. So my blogging came after his needs and my fast learning of the educational law of England.
Here are some of my posts for School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged:-
– Richard III lyth buried at Leicester
– Bosworth Field: 22 August 1485
– School Trip Friday – Walk in our shoes
– School Trip Friday – St Michael’s Mount and the Tudor Pretender, Perkin Warbeck
– School Trip Friday – Weald and Downland Open Air Museum
– School Trip Friday – Chapel of St Peter’s on the Wall, Bradwell
– School Trip Friday – Imperial War Museum Duxford
– School Trip Friday – Of Cabbages and Kings
– School Trip Friday – Hadrian’s Wall
– School Trip Friday – Messages from England’s Roman Past
– School Trip Friday – What did the Roman’s ever do for us?
Using vividly painted 1930s cigarette cards and 1900s postcards to teach my son the chronology of English kings and queens. The tableau above was when we learnt about the Princes in the Tower, and who we thought murdered them. This image came from my most viewed post of the last year (or so!) School Trip Friday – Of Cabbages and Kings
Looking towards the future of my writing…
Finally, apologies about the length of this post. But two years is a long time in the life of a blog, in this fast moving internet age. It seemed that the time was ripe for me to reflect back on my blog and self-indulgently share those reflections with you.
I now want to share with you the future of my blog and of my writings. 2014 is a new year and a new beginning for many members of my family – including my son in his new school. I too have a new beginning which I want share with you, my kind and encouraging readers, who have spurred me on to keep writing during the highly stressful year that was my 2013.
Next week I will tell you my own “news” about the future of my writings.
© Essex Voices Past 2014