The hidden treasures of Essex

Frequent readers of my blog will know that I cannot resist a good rummage around a good-quality second-hand book shop.  On Friday, I made a visit to my favourite bookshop – well, not quite a shop but a large stand in an antiques centre in the middle of Suffolk – to spend a few hours perusing the stand’s excellent antiquarian books on East Anglia.  To my delight, the owner was there restocking his stand, and, realising he had a captive audience, managed to sell me two fascinating books from the 1920s on Essex.  A deal was struck – he was happy and I was happy.  So now I’m the proud owner of the book Essex Survivals; a book written and illustrated in 1929 by the Cambridge-born artist Fred Roe (b 1864, d 1947) who was a member of the Royal Academy.

The quality of the pen and ink drawing within the book, and Fred’s written caricatures of long-gone Essex men and women are outstanding and just begging to be shared with my national and international readership of current and ex residents of Essex.  Fred opens his book with the following words, words which I think will having meaning for any readers of my blog who love this, the strangest (if not brashest!) of English counties.

Regarded, as that county [Essex] has been for many years as a species of backwater only to be approached through the eastern fringe of the metropolis, it is extraordinary how many of its antiquities and curiosities have been preserved, which under other conditions would have probably long ago been improved out of existence.  To those who have Essex blood in their veins the county is often little less than a religion…

The first image from Fred’s book I want to share with you is a map from the inside front page.  It is a pen and ink drawing of the entire county of Essex with Fred’s own tiny caricatures of each town and village he felt worthy of comment.  Thus, the tiny picture for Colchester shows General Fairfax besieging the town in 1648 during the English Civil War; the picture representing Great Dunmow shows the Ancient Custom of the Dunmow Flitch; and the picture representing Manningtree shows a tiny picture of Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled witch-finder general of the English Civil War.  Although I’m not sure if today’s discerning local historian would consider that most beautiful of Essex medieval towns, Thaxted, to fit Fred’s description of A decayed town!

If you are a past or present resident of Essex, or your ancestors came from this diverse county, then look closely at this map to see just a tiny part of this county’s rich and diverse heritage.

Fred Roe's Map of Essex 1929

Fred Roe’s Map of Essex, from Essex Survivals, 1929. Click on the picture above to make taken to a high resolution digital image.  Then use your computer’s zoom options to view these outstanding tiny caricatures of the history of Essex.

Fred did not draw a pen and ink drawing of my most favourite place in the whole of Essex (in fact, my most favourite place anywhere in England) – which, surprisingly, considering my blog and academic research on the town of Great Dunmow, is not that town.  Instead, my favourite place in the whole of Essex is a tiny river-side hamlet on the River Blackwater.

Fred Roe's Map of Essex 1929 (Heybridge)

X marks the spot of my favourite place in the whole of England.

Although Fred did not draw on his map a tiny representation of my favourite place, he did write about it in his book. And his comments on this, the tiniest of hamlets in Essex, I will write about another time.


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You may also be interested in the following
– The dialect of Tudor Essex
– Great Dunmow’s Tudor dialect
– Reformation wills and religious bequests
– The only way is Essex: A is for arsy-varsy
– Witchcraft and Witches in Elizabethan
– The sugar beet factory
– The Dunmow Flitch: Bringing home the bacon
– The Dunmow Flitch 2012

© Essex Voices Past 2014.

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2 Responses to The hidden treasures of Essex

  1. So you are the one who buys up all the good old Essex Books before I get there!
    I am glad not to be alone in love of second hand book shops.

    • the narrator says:

      Why do you think that I never name the places where I get my books from! There’s some cracking books out there. This one is a real little gem because of the illustrations.

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