ID: PBH_EAM / Jean Eames

TitleBirch, Layer Breton and Layer Marney - Glimpses into the History. Jean Eames
AbstractGlimpses into the History of Three Villages Birch, Layer Breton and Layer Marney

Jean Eames

The following is a transcript of a document produced by the late Mrs Jean Eames of Layer Breton. It records some local history research she carried out with a group of friends, and was probably compiled in about 1988. It draws heavily on census records and shows how these can be invaluable in tracing family history. The original document included a number of graphical charts but these have not been reproduced. Most of the information they illustrate is contained in the following text. The document is reproduced with the kind permission of Dr G M Eames.

May 2022. The document has been transferred from to and reformatted for the web. TM.


This collection of material about the three parishes of Birch, Layer Breton and Layer Marney has been put together by a small project group with limited time and resources. It does not therefore claim to be in any way comprehensive nor indeed to chronicle the most important events ever to happen in the three villages or to trace the most significant people. On the contrary, it has sought to avoid those areas which are much better recorded in the history books or been the subject of substantial research. It has been largely governed by the source material the group could find but also by whatever caught the imagination of those involved. Hopefully readers will equally feel able to dip into it to find whatever interests them rather than to read it through from cover to cover.


Descriptions of the villages can be found in the various directories that were produced throughout the century. The earliest seems to be William White's dated 1848. Thereafter Kelly's took over.


In 1848 Birch is described like this:-

Birch (Great and Little) now form one parish, with a straggling village, on a pleasant acclivity 5.5 miles S.W. of Colchester. They contain 794 souls and 3009 acres of dry loamy land, extending northward to Heckford Bridge, on the small river, Roman, where there is a small assemblage of houses in Little Birch, 4 miles S.W. of Colchester. An artificial mound, near the church, is said to be the site of Birch Castle; but it was more probably an outpost of the stupendous Roman entrenchments, which extended round Colchester. P. Wright and F. Harrison Esqrs. have estates here; but the greater part of the soil, with the manor, belongs to Chas. Gray Round, Esq., of Birch Hall, which was an ancient mansion, built chiefly by the Tendring and Golding families, but which was rebuilt by John Round, Esq., in 1727-8 and has since been much improved by his successors. It is a large and handsome mansion, with beautiful pleasure grounds, crossed by a small rivulet. It stands in Little Birch, which has still considerable ruins of a church, and was anciently a separate parish. The Church (St Peter) in Great Birch is a small antique fabric, which has undergone many repairs, and has a shingled spire. Three obits were found in it, and for some time it was in the appropriation of Lees Priory. The united rectories are in the alternate patronage of the Bishop of London and C. G. Round Esq., and incumbency of the Rev. Richard Waller M.A. who has 58A of glebe. The tithes were commuted in 1842. A handsome school of white brick, with a dwelling for the master and mistress, was built here in 1847, by Mrs. Round and is supported by her with the aid of the children's pence. It is conducted on the Pestalozzian system. The poor parishioners have an annuity of 10s. left by Roger March out of Churchfield and Castle hill in 1614, and another of 20s. left by Robert Carr, out of a field of 20A belonging to Mrs. Brett.

People who were deemed worthy of mention in the directory were:-

Digby JamesCorn miller etc.
Hassell Joseph Schoolmaster
Munson IsaacBlacksmith and Wheelwright, Heckford Bridge
Pettitt BarnabasMalster and Vict., Angel Inn, Heckford Bridge
Quarmby James Richard     B.A. curate
Round Chas. Gray Esq.Birch Hall
Tiffin CharlesButcher
Waller Rev. Richard M.A.Vicar
Williams -Steward
Willshere JamesParish Clerk
Woodyard WilliamBricklayer
Baker MaryChamberlain Dd.
Ely DanielLittle James
Fisher Wm.
Frostic Wm.Shopkeepers
Royce JohnBramford Rebca.
Norfolk JoshuaHitchin Mark
Norris JohnMorton Samuel
Pettitt John & Wm.
Potter Daniel
Powell Joseph
Smith John
Wright Hannah

Post from Colchester daily

By 1882 the population, according to Kelly, had increased to 873. The other main changes were that the Church of the combined parishes had been rebuilt in 1850 mainly through the liberality of Charles Round and the school which had been founded through the charity of the Round family had become a National School, presumably following the Education Act of 1870. It was said to have an average attendance of 175 which is quite a lot of children for such a small population.

Far fewer farmers figure in the 1882 Directory, but by this time Birch boasted a surgeon, five shopkeepers and three carriers, one of whom, Mr. Burmby, still has descendents in the village. The carriers provided a regular service to Colchester on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Civilisation had really arrived! Apart from the Rounds, only four families appear in both directories - the Tiffins, Norfolks, Elys and Smiths - all farming families, together with Mr Willsher who was still the parish clerk in 1882 as he had been in 1848. The Census tells us that he was 79 in 1881, so presumably he can not have gone on much longer.


Layer Breton is described by White as "a village and parish in the vale of a rivulet, 6 miles S.S.W. of Colchester and E. by S. of Kelvedon, with 290 inhabitants and 965 acres of land, including 37A of heath, and 15A of roads &. The Briton, or Breton family, who came with the Conqueror, had lands here. From them the manor passed to the Waldens, and in 1677 it became the property of Sir Isaac Rebow. J.G. Rebow Esq., is now lord of the manor, but a great part of the parish belongs to Edward Gripper, Rev. B. Scale, C. Tiffin, and several smaller owners, mostly free holders. The church is a small tiled building with some remains of a chapel connected with the chancel. In the latter is a tombstone, robbed of its effigies, in memory of the wife of Nicholas Breton who died in 1392. The rectory is in the patronage and incumbency of the Rev. R.W. Sutton, M.A. who has a handsome residence, and 39A of glebe. The tithes were commuted in 1842, for £302 per annum. On the heath is an Independent Chapel built in 1798 with a house for the minister. Here is also a small Friends' Meeting House. The parish school is supported chiefly by the rector".

The notable people were:-

Bundick JohnParish Clerk
Cole Wm.Tea Dealer
Finch RobertBeer house
Guy JohnPoliceman
Hutley Wm.Blacksmith
Kempen JamesShopkeeper
Marchant Rev Wm.Independent Minister
Rudlin JohnSchoolmaster
Sutton Rev. Robert Wooding, M.A.     Rectory
Wheeler Mrs HSchoolmistress
Farmers (* are owners)
Abbot Mrs JohnBacon's Farm
* Birkett GeorgeLodge
* Gripper EdwardHall
Holloway Edwardvict Hare
Smith DanielBigwood
* Tiffin Charleshouse Birch
Tiffin JonathanCattle dealer
Wheeler Wm.
Quilter Wm.
The main difference in 1882 was that the Parish School had closed and the children were attending the Birch school.
The Tiffin family in Layer Breton, as in Birch, feature in both directories as do the Grippers, Wheelers, Smiths and Hutleys.


White describes Layer Marney as a scattered village and parish 5.5 miles E. by S. of Kelvedon, and 7 miles of Colchester with 256 inhabitants, and 1950A of land, including 120A of wood and 20A of waste and roads. "It adjoins Tiptree Heath and is the most western of the three Layer parishes. It includes Heynes Free, and had the latter part of its name from the Marney family. In 1523 Henry Marney was created Baron Marney but on the death of his son, John in 1525, the title became extinct. The co-heiresses of the latter sold the manor to Sir Brian Tuke and in 1573 it was sold to Sir S. Tryon. At 1628 it was purchased by Nicholas Corsellis Esq. whose family held it till about ten years ago when they sold it to Quintin Dick Esq., the present lord of the manor and owner of most of the soil. Layer Marney Tower is nearly all that remains of the ancient seat of the Marney family which was one of the earliest and largest brick buildings in the kingdom. It was of a quadrangular form enclosing a spacious court, the chief entrance to which was through the stately tower gateway which now remains and consists of a lofty centre of two stories flanked at each angle by an octangular tower rising to a considerable height and commanding extensive views of the surrounding country and the ocean. Attached to the east and west sides of the gateway are some old buildings converted to a farmhouse and offices. The Church (Virgin Mary) is a stately fabric in the latter style of English architecture built chiefly of brick and consisting of a nave, north aisle, chancel and tower; with a small chapel built by Henry Lord Marney, whose successor left £250 towards rebuilding the church. The interior has a beautiful screen and several handsome monuments, two of which have effigies of the two Lord Marneys. On a marble tomb is the figure of a knight in armour representing Wm. Marney who died in 1414. In 1330 W. de Marney founded a college here, for a warden and two chaplains, the latter to officiate in two chanceries which he had also founded here and endowed with the advowson and 30A of land. The rectory is in the gift of Quintin Dick Esq. and in the incumbency of the Rev. Samuel Farman, M.A. who has a good residence. The tithes have been commuted for £466 per annum."

The description of the parish had changed little by 1882. Kelly was as concerned as White to describe the Towers and their history. However the land seemed to have changed hands. Mr Dick disappears from the scene to be replaced by the Rounds, Miss Keziah Peache, the lady of the manor, Sir Abdy and more unusually, the Trustees of Croyden School and Barts Hospital.

Families that do figure in both directories are the Barritts, Blyths and Sachs, all farmers, and the Hutleys, blacksmiths. Mr. William Sparrow was the landlord of the Black Lion in 1848 and 1882. While Birch only had one pub, the Angel, and Layer Breton only the Hare and Hounds, Layer Marney, although the smallest of the villages, boasted not only the Black Lion but also the White Horse and a beer retailer!


In the nineteenth century there were three rectors to serve the area which now one parish priest has to tend. The three who lived in the middle of the century turned out to be rather interesting characters. Whether this was just chance or whether the ministry tended to attract unusual people is a matter for speculation.


The Rev. William Harrison was Rector of Birch from 1848 to 1881. According to the census, he was born in Bermondsey, the son of a doctor and he was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford. His wife, Juanita, came from Lincolnshire. Their children were all born in London, even the youngest who arrived after they came to Birch. Perhaps they were wealthy enough to seek a London doctor, or perhaps some of Mrs. Harrison's family lived there and she sought their support for her confinements. By the standards of the day the family was relatively small - only four. There may of course have been some infant deaths as there are quite large age differences between some of the surviving children. The Harrisons showed some originality in their choice of names - Basil, Gertrude, Louise and Brackenbury, although this last seems to have been Mrs Harrison's maiden name and use of maiden names as Christian names was not unusual.

If the number of servants is anything to go by, the family were quite well off. In 1851 they had five - a governess for the elder children who obviously were not allowed to mix with the other children in the village school, and two nurses for the baby as well as a cook and house maid. Even in 1881, when the children were all grown up, there were four servants to look after the house. Mrs. Harrison had died by then, but two of her daughters as well as a niece were at home to look after the rector, so four servants seems quite extravagant.

The Rev. Harrison achieved some immortality through the publication of several works. One of these is of particular interest because it tells us a bit more about the neighbourhood and the people of Birch. It is called 'The Light of the Forge' and it tells of the conversion of one of his parishioners who continued to hold to her faith throughout her battle against a quite diabolical illness which is graphically described. This work went into a second edition so presumably was quite a success. From their titles, the other publications seem to have been in an even more serious vein. Several of them are sermons, preached by Rev. Harrison at various places - though not at Birch. Perhaps he saved his best efforts for when he was away from home or perhaps the home audience got them later. They were on a variety of topics:-
Sermons on the Commandments - preached in the Chapel of Magdalene Hospital, 1841.
Christian Education, the safeguard of a people - preached at St Michael's, Chester Street, in 1848.
A sermon preached at St. Saviour's, Chelsea, on the Jubilee of the Church Missionary Society, 1848.
The proper nature of moral remedies. A sermon preached at the Foundling Hospital, 1850.
The power of the Word of God, a jubilee sermon preached at St Peter's, Colchester, 1853.
The Blessings of the Reformation - preached at St Mary at the Walls in 1858.
In addition there were:-
Consecrated Thoughts 1842.
The path of a Christian statesman in the present state of our country and church briefly considered 1851.
Lent Daily Readings for the Holy Season, 1876.
- and one which particularly arouses the curiosity -
"The warning of prophecy against murmurings and sensual vices of the last days - 1856".

Some extracts give a flavour of the sort of vices with which he was concerned.
"It would form a startling point in national statistics if we could ascertain the numbers of those who are living either quite up to or else beyond their income."
"Any person who has consulted the moral condition of this country, could not fail to have remarked that drunkenness stands in the fore-front of its catalogue of sins . . . . It has been shewn that no less a sum than fifty millions is annually spent by the working classes in drinking and smoking."
" . . . . the baptismal registers both in manufacturing and rural districts at home, testify to the great increase of illegitimate children: the state of our public streets at night in large towns shows how licentiousness of another description abounds."
One wonders what local scandals might have triggered such a theme.

Presumably Rev. Harrison was quite well thought of by the church as he was appointed an honorary canon of St. Albans in 1877 and also held the post of Domestic Chaplain to H.R.H. Duchess of Cambridge.

We have little information about what happened to his family. Edith, the eldest girl, disappears from the census returns but there is no record of her getting married - at least not in her father's church. Mrs. Harrison's memorial in the church says she was buried near the grave of her first born and so perhaps Edith, who is certainly the eldest of the children we know about, died young.

A little more can be learned about the other children from the rather interesting will which Rev. Harrison left when he died in 1882. His estate was valued at £5799.6s.8d., quite a considerable sum for the time. Most of it went to his two daughters, Mary and Geraldine who were still spinsters. They were of an age by then to be considered "on the shelf". Eligible young men were presumably not too easily found in Birch. Edith is not mentioned in the will, lending support to the view that she had died. Basil, however, who as the only son might have been expected to be his father's heir came off rather badly. He was left just £50 in cash and even this in the original will had to be used to pay off the loan he had received from Captain Edward Fenwick Brackenbury R.A. if it were still outstanding. However, a codicil made a year later gave him the £50 outright. In addition he was to be allowed a selection from the books, manuscripts, and family portraits and he also received a rather special bequest - "the candelabra presented to me on my 62nd natal day by my parishioners as a token of their love and esteem after 25 years labour".

The candelabra was presumably a treasured possession so it seems safe to assume that Basil was not altogether in his father's bad books in which case why did he not get more? Perhaps as a man, his need was not felt to be as great as his spinster sisters. However he was certainly not wealthy himself. When he died in 1886, aged only 40, he left to his wife just under the £50 he had inherited from his father. He was living in London at the time of his death but his occupation is a mystery. A plaque in Birch Church was erected to his memory by his friends and 'colleagues in the House of Commons'. However the Librarian at the Commons can find no record of his connection with the House at all.


Rev. William Blow who was rector of Layer Breton from 1855 to 1886 came from a clerical family. His father was rector of Goodmanton with Estrop in Yorkshire from 1819 to 1870 and his elder brother, John, succeeded his father there. William was ordained Deacon in 1847 and Priest in 1848 at York, but as a younger son had to find a living elsewhere and after four years as his father's curate came South to Essex with his wife, Mary, who was also a native of Yorkshire. According to Kelly's Directory, the living of Layer Breton was in the gift of his father although why this should have been so is not evident.

William was educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge (his father went to Sidney Sussex and his brother to St. John's). Soon after his arrival there he was persuaded to join the newly formed Peterhouse Musical Society and became its president in 1844 by which time it had become the Cambridge University Musical Society. Lord Kelvin describes how this came about. "The Cambridge Musical Society originated in an informal private amateur concert at Peterhouse. Shortly afterwards the undergraduates of Peterhouse held a supper, winding up with certain hilarious proceedings on the College roof, which nearly wrecked the enterprise. On the next occasion, when the concert was to be given in the Red Lion Hotel for want of an adequate room in College, the Master refused permission unless the Peterhouse Society would call itself the University Musical Society . . . . and the concert was given to a large audience on 8th December 1843. Kelvin also describes Blow in a letter of 1888 as "our strongest man, being a really first-rate violin player."

The first public concert of the CUMS was held on 1st May 1844. It was reviewed in the local press.
"The room, as might have been expected, was crowded to the door by the members and their friends.
A great many ladies graced the scene by their presence and added not a little, we doubt not, to inspire the performers with additional spirit.
Of the performances themselves we cannot but speak in the highest terms for we are not disposed to criticise amateur performances with that niceness which we should observe towards those which are professional. The concert commenced with Haydn's Surprise Symphony which was played with much precision and spirit. This was followed by King's glee of the 'Witches', (sung by three gentlemen whose names we did not learn) succeeded by the beautiful ballad of 'Jock o'Hazldean' which was sung with much taste by Mr. Smyttan, of Corpus, and loudly encored. Mr Blow, of Peterhouse, who is much celebrated for his striking performances on the violin, then played one of De Beriot's most beautiful airs, and simply sustained his reputation - this gentleman plays really with a master hand, and, as might have been expected, elicited one of the most hearty encores ever heard within the walls of a concert room. Mr Byers, of Queens, then sang 'Tis when to sleep' by Bishop. The first part was concluded with Auber's Overture of 'Les Diamans de la Couronne'."

Not only was Blow thought to be a first-rate violinist but also a brilliant pianist. He was said to have possessed and played one of the finest known Stradivarius, bought by Carridge, Organist of York Minster from a pawn broker for under £5.00 and sold to Blow's father for about £200. One of his contemporaries wrote in later years that "curiously enough he was a good deal like Paganini in appearance, though a very handsome likeness of him". While at Peterhouse Blow played first violin in 'the band' as well as playing solos and taking part in chamber works. However the programmes of the CUMS do not give the names of individual performers or conductors so no details of his performances there are known. How often he performed after he became a clergyman, we do not know, but he certainly contributed at one public concert as is recorded in the Essex County Standard of January 25th 1878.

Concert at the Town Hall

It is seldom indeed that in a parochial entertainment or an entertainment in aid of any parochial charity or fund, we have seen such an array of talent as was presented by the programme of the Grand Amateur Concert held by kind permission of the Mayor at the Town Hall, Colchester last Wednesday evening in aid of the Choir Fund for the parish of St. James, and it is rarely indeed that a concert whose object is so purely local is rewarded with such a crowded and brilliant audience as assembled on that occasion. With such names as appeared on the programme however an overflowing audience could have been anticipated with confidence comprising as the list did many of the most accomplished amateurs in the town and neighbourhood. Nearly half the room was devoted to reserved seats occupied by ladies and gentlemen in full evening dress among whom were many of the principal families in the town and the remaining proportion of the space was taken up by second and third class seats all of which were occupied and not a few had to maintain a perpendicular attitude throughout the whole of the performance.

The programme opened with a quartette which was rendered in pleasing style by Miss. G. Curtis, Miss. E. Curtis, the Rev. E.F. Hay and Mr Dampien. This was followed by "Song of the Old Bell" by Mr. Lanell who was heartily applauded. Miss Maud Walman's rendering of "The Blind Girl to her Harp" was very feeling and appropriate and well deserved the appreciation it received and Capt. Meanes justly merited the enthusiastic applause which followed his song. The next item on the programme was a violin solo (7th Concerto) by the Rev. W. Blow. This gentleman possesses a splendid instrument, probably one of the most valuable in the country and unlike many connoisseurs he understands its use as well as its value. His performance on this occasion (which was accompanied by Mrs. Bell) was a masterpiece of execution and received a suitable recognition at the hands of the audience. Miss A Earee who possesses a powerful clear and pleasing voice was heartily encored for her rendering of Donizetti's song "O Mio Fernande" and Mr. W. Gepp of Chelmsford was loudly applauded for his singing of "Vi Ravviso". The second part of the programme was opened by Mrs Burnaby with a song which required a great deal of exection and this lady was succeeded by Mr Ladell who in response to an encore for his singing of "The Village Blacksmith" gave the pathetic and sweetly pretty song "The Gallant Comrade". Cowen's song "Marguerite" having been sung by Mrs Frances, a quartette which appeared later in the programme was introduced. Capt. Meanes song "Tis I" was loudly redemanded and Miss A. Earee who has established herself as a favourite with Colchester audiences was encored for her rendering of 'Dermot Astore'. A pretty comic song by Mr Gepp was well appreciated and Miss Maud Welman's song "He thinks I do not love him" was redemanded, the song sung in response being "Ah for the Golden Days" which was given a very able and finished style. This concluded the programme and the audience separated after spending a most agreeable evening. We must not omit to mention that the accompaniments to the songs were most ably played, this important part of the performance being undertaken by Mrs. Bell, Miss Cooper, Mr. C. Winterbon and Master Dace.

We understand that after the expenses incidental to the entertainment have been defrayed there will be a balance of £17 in favour of the Choir Fund."

In a book by Gerald Norris it is recorded that William Blow was a descendant of John Blow and "a superb violinist who came in time to be regarded as one of the leading musical amateurs in Europe. He is said to have built up the most important single collection of violins in England among which were instruments by Stradivarius, Amati, Guarnerius and many other notable makers." What happened to the collection is as yet unclear. All we know is that Hill's sold a Stradivarius and an Amati belonging to William towards the end of the 1870s 'when he was becoming impecunious'. This Stradivarius had also been in the possession of Dr Camage of York so it sounds as though it was the instrument which William played himself. Perhaps therefore the concert described above was one of the last occasions when he played it which is rather a sad thought. How many other instruments he possessed - or whether the reports of a collection are exaggerated - is unknown. Certainly his will gives no hints.

William and Mary started a family as soon as they came to Layer Breton and went on to have nine children in eleven years, all of whom survived early infancy. There is no record of the baptism of the eldest, a girl called Gertrude Charlotte - perhaps Mrs. Blow went home to Mum for the first confinement. The other children however were all baptised in Layer Breton Church, the first by the Rector of Layer Marney but the rest by their father. The Census of 1861, when five of the children had been born, tells us that the household had four employees, a cook, housemaid, nurse, and under nurse. By 1871 this had been reduced to three, all simply described as servants. The youngest child was then four so presumably nurses were not really required, but possibly too finances were getting a bit tight with such a large family. Certainly that census shows that the family also had a boarder, a Mary Cuxworthy, described as a Lady. By 1881 the family were down to two servants but of course by then the children were quite big.

We have information about what happened to some of the children. Gertrude got married in 1880 to a Thomas James Paul Holmes, a Surgeon Major in the Army Medical Department. He was the son of a Clerk in Holy Orders of Lexden, so presumably was quite a suitable match. Four years later her sister Mary married James Hamblyn Smith, himself a clergyman - a Minor Canon in fact. His father was a private tutor in Rochester. The only other daughter, Kate, who would have been 16 at the time of the 1881 Census was not then living at home, nor were her two younger brothers. Perhaps they were away at school, as there are no records to indicate that they had died young. We know nothing of the two oldest boys either but the next two, Lawrence and Edward, do appear in the 1881 Census. Lawrence, although twenty years old, is given no occupation, Edward is described still as a scholar. Cambridge University records show that Edward followed in his father's footsteps and went to Peterhouse after attending Felstead Grammar School. He was ordained a deacon in 1892 and a priest in 1897 at Rochester. (Had he gone to live with his married sister?) He had curacies at Milton next Gravesend, Snodland in Kent, Steep in Hampshire before finally receiving a living at Stretton-on-Fosse with Ditchford in 1899.

Rev. Blow died in 1886, a comparatively young man. In his will he left all his possessions to his wife but the estate was valued only at £495. Considering the size of his family it is perhaps commendable that he had anything to leave at all.


The rector of Layer Marney, Samuel Farman, is perhaps the most intriguing of the three. We learn from the Census that he was born in Ipswich and that his wife, Mary, came from Middlesex. He had travelled widely in his youth. His oldest children were born in Turkey although all efforts to find out what took him there have been unavailing. Their ages indicate that he was in Constantinople certainly between 1836 and 1840. However church records show that he was ordained a deacon in 1834 and priest in 1838. The diocese where the ordinations took place is not given. Perhaps it was in Turkey - or perhaps he fitted in ordination on trips home! His first church appointment seems to have been as curate at Peldon from 1842-44 and he was instituted to Layer Marney in 1844 on the presentation of Sarah Oliver of St Osyth. He seems to have built the Church School in 1850 on the corner of the Rectory property and he carried out a large restoration of the church in 1870, some stained glass dating from that period (which incidentally has been described as atrocious).

He had books published in Vienna and at Malta so possibly had travelled to those places as well. They sound to be rather learned volumes - 'Part of the Hebrew and Spanish Scripture' and 'Il futuro Destino d'Israele'.

He also published a pamphlet while living at Layer Marney. It is entitled 'Constantinople in connection with the present war' (1855) and begins - "The following pages were delivered as a lecture first at Birch near Colchester and afterward at the Corn Exchange, Ipswich. My object being to diffuse right information and to show the great importance of the present crisis, the necessity and justice on our part of the struggle, I have committed them to the Press in hope they may prove useful to many in forming a just estimate of the war". One wonders which and how many of the inhabitants of Birch and district were attracted to the lecture. His grounds for presuming to deliver it were that he had travelled for a long time in the East and had resided during several years in Constantinople. He seems to have felt some conflict between his role as a clergyman and his support of war and a need to justify his position - particularly in relation to this particular war which was of course the Crimean.

"When I hear one, as I have heard, affirm this to be an unrighteous war, I reply 'Sir, these are the facts' . . . . . . which prove us to be acting in the cause of humanity as the world's police in restraining wholesale murder rapine and outrage though in the execution of our duty these are the inevitable results and consequently this blood cannot be charged to Britain but on the contrary, the concentrated voice of all this misery arises to heaven and cries for vengeance upon the head of the aggressive and fanatical old Muscovite party of Russia of which Nicholas is the embodiment and chief."

His style indeed is generally flowery. Here is how he describes what befell Constantinople as a result of its fall to Islam with some suggestion also that Christianity had not entirely upheld its best traditions.
"How different would her fate have been had she persevered in the purity of the faith she held when from the nascent temples erected by Constantine the voice of sincere and simple prayer and praise ascended to heaven, unalloyed by the worship of saints or angels and those numerous additions made to the simple and pure religion of Christ."

It would be nice to know whether he had had some sort of occupation that took him abroad or whether he had private means. Certainly his wife seems to have come from a monied family. Her mother, Mary Williams, who came to live with the family at Layer Marney, is described on the census of 1861 as a landed proprietor of 452 acres employing 3 boys and 17 labourers. In fact she had owned rather more than this. A conveyance of 1859 records the sale to Mrs. Williams under the will of Quintin Dick for £30,448 of Tower Farm, 635 acres and Thorrington Farm, 205 acres. Her will shows that she also had a property in London.

This will is a very interesting document. In spite of the fact that he gave her a home for 25 years, she seems to have left nothing directly to her daughter's husband, Samuel. It was his children who benefited. Even her son only received £100. Nearly all the beneficiaries had to make an annual payment to one Elizabeth Gentry of St. Osyth. These payments, it is explained, are 'in lieu of and in satisfaction of the annuity whereon the proper duty to Government has been paid which was bequeathed to the said Elizabeth Gentry by the will of my late sister Sarah Oliver . . . . . charged upon and made payable out of the annual proceeds of certain personal estate thereby bequeathed to me.' Sarah Oliver, you will remember, was the lady who instituted Samuel to the living at Layer Marney. Even if there were no direct financial gain therefore, he seems to have gained his living through his wife's family connections. Elizabeth Gentry appears on the 1871 census at St Osyth living as a housekeeper to a bachelor gentleman. Presumably she had fulfilled the same function for Sarah Oliver.

As far as we know Samuel had thirteen children who survived early infancy but three of them died before they reached adulthood. The first four are recorded as being born in Constantinople, the next one at Shoreham in Sussex, one at Peldon, the rest at Layer Marney. We learn some more about them from Mary Williams's will. The eldest daughter, Mary, had followed family tradition and married a clergyman - Reverend Thomas Ralph Musselwhite, Vicar of West Mersea, who for whatever reason had borrowed £500 off the old lady. This money was left to Mary in her grandmother's will presumably in the hope her husband would give it back to her. In addition Mary inherited her grandmother's London property so presumably she was something of a favourite. The unmarried girls, Oratia and Susan, both received a legacy payable on their marriage or at their mother's death. The other two married daughters, Margaret, wife of Edward Carnell and Harriet wife of Walter Hammond Thelwall each received £500. The sixth daughter, Emily, does not appear in the will. Was she therefore dead? She is mentioned as visiting in Mersea on the 1871 census - presumably at the Musselwhites. Had she offended her grandma or did she die subsequent to this visit? The surviving sons, Samuel, Charles, Thomas, and Edward were made the residuary legatees by their grandmother. The only one of these that we know any more about is the eldest one, Samuel. He followed in his father's footsteps and as we see from the census was curate to his father at Layer Marney. Samuel was an undergraduate at Cambridge and brief details of his life appear in the University Lists. These give his place of birth more precisely as Buyukdere in the Bosphorus, and record that he held curacies at Pontisbright and Lexden after helping his father in Layer Marney. He became Vicar of Harwich and then St John's, Colchester. He converted to Rome in 1880 and was living in Earls Court, London when he died in 1910.

We learn a little more of Mary Musselwhite and her husband from their neighbour, Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, who was Rector at East Mersea from 1871 to 1881. In his book 'Further Reminiscences', he says: "Our nearest neighbour was Mr. Musselwhite, Vicar of West Mersea, a kindly man, but not possessed of many interests or of much information. When Mr Musselwhite came to West Mersea he took the glebe away from Elijah Rebow, who had rented it at a sum below its value, purposing to farm it himself. The churchwarden earnestly entreated the Vicar to insure his harvest recently gathered in. Musselwhite drove into Colchester, after seeing that his ricks were thatched. On his way he passed the churchwarden's house. The man called out to him, "Have you insured?"
"Then do so at once, to full value."
Musselwhite arrived in Colchester at a quarter of an hour before the office closed. He went in precisely five minutes before it shut and insured for the total amount.
As he drove home on the evening, he saw his churchwarden standing at the garden gate.
"Have you insured?"
"To the full value?"
"That is well. Your ricks are on fire."
The insurance office tried to obtain evidence against Elijah Rebow but failed. He was too subtle to be caught."

The Farmans do not appear to have lived particularly extravagantly by comparison with the neighbouring clergy. With eight children at home in 1851 they had only three house servants - no nurses or governesses. The number had gone up to four in 1861, two house servants, a cook and a groom. Presumably therefore the children were educated away from home. They moved out of the Rectory after Grandma Williams had bought the Tower estate from Quintin Dick and lived in the Tower. This might have had social consequences but it must be debatable whether it was more comfortable than the Rectory. However it left the Rectory free for the curate - who at this time was Rev Farman's eldest son.

When Samuel died in 1870 he left no will and there were no letters of administration so presumably he had few funds. Considering the size of his family this is perhaps not surprising. It is possible of course that his wife had a private income. She survived him by nearly thirty years and was living in London at the time of her death.


A congregational chapel once stood on Layer Breton Heath. It has gone now but its graveyard remains and so does the schoolroom which is now used as a garage. The chapel was founded back in 1798 and its origins are described in the Evangelical Magazine of that year.
"On Tuesday 17th July, a neat little place of worship was opened on Layer Breton Heath about six miles from Colchester, and nearly at the centre of several small villages where, till very lately, a praying family was scarcely to be found, and many of the inhabitants openly discovered, both by word and actions, their bitter enmity to real godliness.
Two sermons were preached at the opening of this place . . . . . The place on both parts of the day was very crowded especially in the afternoon, when many could not get in, divine service was therefore carried on at the door. The congregation appeared serious and attentive.
The circumstances leading to the erection of this house for the worship of God are as follows:- One Sabbath evening, between three and four years ago, a serious young man (a farmer's servant in the neighbourhood), being detained from lecture visited a poor man, his acquaintance, who lived at a small distance, with whom he spent and hour or two in reading, singing, conversation and prayer. The poor man requested him to repeat his visit, which he did in the course of the week, and spent the time as before. He visited him the third time, and then found several of the poor people of the place gathered together, and the opportunity appearing pleasant and profitable their meetings were continued from time to time; the young man, at the request of those who attended, endeavouring to explain the word of God to them. Their numbers increasing, till the house where they first assembled could not contain them; they removed to a larger one; but this also proving too small (owing to a further increase of their numbers) they hired a barn, that stood near the place where (upon having it properly fitted up) they met Sabbath after Sabbath, till very lately; and the Lord appeared among them and made his own word effectual for good (it is hoped) to not less than thirty souls. As the people so constantly attended and discovered such a desire to have the gospel continued among them by the same young man, the proprietor of the barn was requested either to sell or grant a lease of it; but he refusing to do either, the Lord of the Manor was applied to for a piece of ground to build a place of worship upon which he readily granted. The majority of those usually attending being very poor, a subscription was set on foot by friends in Colchester, and other places around and two thirds of the sum wanted is already subscribed. The foundation of this house was laid in prayer, in the month April last and opened with praise in the July following."

This account is largely corroborated by the entry in the Congregational Year Book of 1857 which gives a little biography of the first minister, Rev. William Merchant.
"He was born in 1777 at Ardleigh in Essex, where his father occupied a small farm. When about 15 years of age he was induced to attend the ministry of the Rev. Giles Hobbs of Colchester and became the subject of deep and powerful convictions of sin, but through the divine blessing upon the word preached, he at length found 'joy and peace in believing'.

Having found the Saviour he became anxious about the salvation of others. Hearing of a poor man who was ill at Layer de la Hay he visited him on a Sabbath afternoon; he read the word of God, conversed and prayed with him. He was invited to repeat the visit. On the second occasion, several neighbours of the sick man were invited, and were present. The young disciple read the Scriptures and exhorted the people. The Lord was present to bless the word. He was requested to hold a similar meeting at Layer Breton. He went repeatedly and souls were converted. The church at Colchester encouraged the youth; fitted up a barn as a temporary chapel and eventually built in that benighted locality a house for the Lord. A Church was soon formed, consisting of twelve persons, one of whom was the man who had been visited in his sickness; and the church having multiplied to thirty members, Mr. Merchant received a call to the pastorate. On the 30th July 1799 he was publicly set apart to the christian ministry.

In 1804 the chapel was enlarged. Mr Merchant itinerated through the neighbouring villages and to his indefatigable labours, chiefly the churches at Tollesbury and Kelvedon owe their existence. His preaching abilities were of no ordinary character and great grace accompanied his labours.

A few years later he built a chapel at Layer de la Hay for evening preaching and a school room at Layer Breton . . . . In 1856 he fell asleep in Jesus without a struggle or a groan.

He left a numerous congregation the chapel being crowded up to the time of his death. On the following Sunday the sorrowing church and congregation attempted to sing the hymn 'Rest from thy labour, rest' but they could not - only sobs were heard throughout the chapel."

The next minister seems to have been John Fletcher who came from Hurstbourne Tarrant, but he can not have remained long. According to the Congregational Year Book of 1864 "From this place (Layer Breton) he removed on account of the illness of his wife to Melbourne in Derbyshire." By 1860 Thomas Walford was in post. A letter written by him to a Joshua Wilson survives. This was composed at the time when it was planned to enlarge the chapel buildings.

August 13 1860

My Dear Sir,
My object in taking the liberty to write to you is to obtain information regarding the congregational chapel now in the course of erection at Layer Breton. The peculiar circumstances of the case render advice from some gentleman acquainted with chapel building and interested in it very important and may prove of great service. Should you be so kind as to give it, it will be a great relief to my mind, and a benefit to the cause of God.
An interesting account of the origin and progress of the cause in this place may be found in the Congregational Year Book for 1857 - page 196. Within the last three years the Church and congregation have greatly increased. An old chapel being very much out of repair and very unsafe, and not large enough to accommodate the numerous congregation we have been under the necessity of commencing the erection of a new one - 53 feet long 40 wide which will provide for the accommodation of 600 persons at 18 ins per sitting.
The erection of such a building in a village like this is a formidable affair for the congregation, with few exceptions, is composed of agricultural labourers who of course can do but little. The amount however contributed by the people themselves is £300. We have received aid from neighbouring congregations. The whole account deposited in the bank for the new chapel is £610. . . . . .
There is a minister's house near the chapel (within a yard) in a dilapidated condition which has frequently been repaired but in vain. The minister and his family suffer much in the winter in consequence. We have not the means to erect a new one. If we had it could be built £20 cheaper now than after the chapel is finished.
Having given these particulars I come now to the point in hand. We have been advised to apply to the Congregational Chapel Building Society for aid but we cannot do so because the ground is copyhold and we have not the means to enfranchise. We may venture to affirm that the people here upon the whole have done what they could and are doing what they can. In addition to keeping their own minister, they support a day school and contribute towards other objects . . . . Mr Gripper, Layer Breton, of the Society of Friends is Lord of the Manor. He assisted us in carting for the new chapel. He gave us at first to understand the amount he required for enfranchisement and says he will charge the same now we have commenced building . . . . "

Unfortunately the reply to the letter has not survived but certainly somehow the building was completed. However the growth which led to the need for a larger chapel was not sustained as only four years later the day school was closed. The chapel itself continued to function until 1919. An account in the Essex County Standard of 1837 by a Mr Jefferies says that he had met and talked with Mr Burmby who remembered the chapel being built. This seems somewhat unlikely but there is no reason to doubt Mr Burmby's account of the chapel band in which he played with his brothers.


Although the Congregational Year Book implies that Layer Breton was a rather godless place, it had a remarkable number of religious establishments for such a small community. In addition to the Parish Church and the Congregational Chapel, a Quaker Meeting House was also opened there in 1827 (or perhaps it was because it was godless that it needed three churches). There seem to have been no great events in the history of the Society. From about 1867 reading meetings were held on the evening of First Days. At these meetings a tract, or some suitable work, was read, and a hymn was read at the end. The attendance varied from 20 to 60. A First Day School was also held at Layer Breton although there are no figures to say how popular it was.

By the 1890s the meeting was clearly struggling. In 1894 the Monthly Meeting of the district reported that the condition of our meeting at Layer Breton . . . . has a special claim on our sympathy . . . . a conveyance should, once a month, be placed at the disposal of any Friends who desire to attend that Meeting on First Day. In 1897 it was reported that "many members interested in the movement, some as teachers some as scholars, have by age or removal ceased their labours and the loss is severely felt." The situation continued to deteriorate and by 1900 the Meeting was reduced to one resident family.

This family was the Grippers. Of 29 graves in the Quaker burial ground, 11 belong to this family and 5 more are Barritts with whom the Grippers were related by marriage. Edward Gripper was the Lord of the Manor for a good part of the century - he was the one who was reasonably obliging in the matter of rebuilding the Congregational Chapel (see previous section). In 1841 when the tithe map was drawn up, Edward was shown as owning large parts of Layer Breton. As well as Layer Breton Hall and its land, he also owned White House Farm.

He had married a lady called Mary Coleby and together they produced 12 children. Of these, three daughters, all with the remarkably similar names of Mary, Maria, and Marianne, remained unmarried and lived until their deaths at White House Farm. They were there in 1884 when the earthquake was reported as having cracked and spoiled their ceilings. They were not the only ones to suffer. A stack of chimneys at the Rectory came heavily down upon the roof causing considerable damage to the building; in fact the chimneys of every house in the village were more or less destroyed.

It was through another daughter of Edward and Mary Gripper, Harriet, that the Grippers became allied to the Barritt family who also feature largely in the Layer Breton records as considerable land holders. It was a Charles Barritt that married Harriet and in his will, he left the income from some of his property to her for life. This property 'Stamps and Crows' he had bought in 1871 at an auction at the Cups Hotel. It had previously been in the ownership of the Scale family who had been absentee landlords for many years. The Scales in fact seem to have used it as a handy bit of security on which to raise a series of loans. Throughout the many mortgage documents, the property is called "Stamps and Crows". However in the documents of sale dated 1901 - when the Barritt family sold it, - a clear distinction is made between that part which is called Stamps and the part called Crows.


Each of the villages had a parish school at some time during the century. The one at Birch was opened in 1847, to be followed in 1850 by Layer Marney's. White's Directory indicates that a parish school existed in Layer Breton in 1848 but it seems to have been short-lived. It was possibly put out of business by the advent of a school associated with the Congregational Church, which from its size must have had a great number of adherents from the local community. However the non-conformist school also had a short life and closed in 1866. The church school re-opened to fill the gap but by 1880 it is clear that the children of Layer Breton were attending Birch School - as they continue to do to this day.

The Log Book for Birch School survives and makes interesting reading. The weather figures in it quite largely and when one considers that all the children must have walked to school, it is not surprising that they were deterred by extremes of temperature. Our grumbles these days look rather paltry by comparison.

Jan. 18th 1881 Smaller attendance. A strong east wind with drifting snow - increased to gale in the afternoon. Several trees down. School closed for rest of week - thermometer registered 5 below zero - 37 degrees of frost.

Feb. 1st 1895 Only 30 scholars present this morning on account of a heavy fall of snow. The Registers were not marked but various games were played during the morning.

Feb. 16th 1900 A heavy fall of snow prevented the children attending on Wednesday and on Thursday afternoon.

In 1863 it was an outbreak of scarlet fever which reduced attendances but the first part of 1900 seems to have been remarkable for official holidays.

Feb. 23rd 1900 A half holiday was given on Wednesday.
Mar. 2nd 1900 A half holiday was given on Thursday to celebrate the relief of Ladysmith.
Mar. 9th 1900 A half holiday was given on Wednesday in honour of the Inspector's visit.
May 25th 1900 A half holiday was given on Monday to celebrate the relief of Mafeking.

The Log Book also gives us some idea of what was taught in the school.

for year ending April 30th 1896


1To repeat from blackboard numbers from 0 - 9.
2To repeat from blackboard numbers from 0 - 99.
3Explain one ten + 1 one = 11, ten + 2 ones = 12, up to 9 tens and 9 ones = 99.
4To add any two numbers, each not more than 9. Explain the meaning of the word "add".
Note - each child to be able to explain why 6 and 4 are 10, 3 and 7 are ten, and to say how he did the sum.
Each child to be able to say he saw 7 things and 8 more and these were counted - therefore 7 + 8 = 15.
5To reverse No. 4. Thus if 7 + 8 = 15: 15 - 7 = 8, 15 - 8 = 7.
(Explain the words "subtraction" and "minus".)
6Teach how to place down numbers to 99.
7Teach which is the greater of two number to 99.
8Teach which is the less of two number to 99.
9To find the page in a book.
10   Addition of three lines as 87 + 19 + 65.

The teachers seem to have done quite well in the task they set themselves. The entry for 13th June 1881 in the Log Book reads:-
H.M. Inspectors - Reading is very good and great pains have evidently been taken to stimulate the interest of the children. Handwriting is remarkably good. Spelling is rather weak in the lower classes but thoroughly good in the upper half of the school. Composition is highly creditable. Arithmetic is fairly accurate, the higher standards again giving the best results. Discipline and general tone are praiseworthy. Singing is good.

The 'general tone' was presumably enhanced by such events as was held on August 12th of the same year. "W.J. Barrett gave a lecture this morning on alcohol." The children were also encouraged by prizes. In 1866 these were awarded for the three Rs - the oldest prizewinners received 7s. 6d, the youngest 4s. 0d. - not an inconsiderable amount for those days.

Even before the Education Act of 1870, grants were available from the Government to help schools. The amount paid depended partly on attendance and partly on success in exams so it was important both that pupils were attracted to come to school and that they did well. Again the Log Book gives details:-

Particulars of Grant (1881)

An attendance of178     @ 4/-  
    Music@ 2/- £53. 8s. 0d.
Infants presented47@ 8/-£18. 16s. 0d
Presented for exam
Passes in reading127
Passes in writing110347 less 7    
Passes in arithmetic110340@ 3/-£51. 5s. 0d
Class 2 subjects129@ 4/-£25. 16s. 0d
Grant under Article 19E     £7. 0s. 0d
The author of the Bill bringing in this method of payment of grants told the House of Commons that though he could not promise that elementary education would henceforth be both efficient and economical "it shall be either one or the other. If it is not cheap, it shall be efficient, if it is not efficient it shall be cheap."
In that literacy was increasing in Birch, as we shall see, hopefully education here was efficient!


Looking at the Trade Directories for Essex in the nineteenth century, it is almost impossible to overlook the number of blacksmiths who go by the name of Hutley. As several of them lived in our three villages, it seemed a good idea to see what could be found out about them. The result has been a fascinating detective hunt which has led to contact with Hutleys in different parts of the country who have helped in the researches.

The first step was to look at the 1841 Census which showed 2 Hutley blacksmiths in Layer Marney and one in Layer Breton. In Layer Marney lived Thomas and his wife Sarah with three grown up children and an apprentice and nearby were Jonathan, his wife and two little children. In Layer Breton the smith was called William Hutley and he and his wife had six children including one year old twins.

Three blacksmiths all working within a few miles of each other. Surely they must be related to each other but how? Perhaps the 1851 Census with its greater detail would give some clues - unless of course the families had moved away in the interim. Luckily this had not happened although there were quite few changes.

In the Layer Marney record no mention was made of Thomas and clearly he had died as Sarah was now described as a widow. This was a pity as the census is one of the best sources for tracking down relationships and helping to solve family history puzzles, and with Thomas gone, all we learnt was that Sarah had been born in Halstead. Two of the grown-up children, Frederick and Henrietta, were still living with their mother and a granddaughter, Eliza Hutley, aged 7, had appeared in the interim.

Jonathan and his wife, Agnes, were still living next door. Jonathan's birthplace was given as Bradwell, and his wife's as Ayrshire. One wonders what brought her so far from home. Probably we shall never know how they managed to meet. Their two children had gone, perhaps they had died - they would have been rather young to have left home. It was common of course for people to die young during the 19th century though it seems hard if Jonathan and Agnes had lost their only two particularly as they had survived the first two really risky years. Perhaps the same illness had killed them both.

William was still the blacksmith in neighbouring Layer Breton. Excitingly the census showed that William, like Jonathan, had been born at Bradwell. Were they perhaps brothers?

With the additional information from this second census, the next search was of the birth and marriage registers to see what else could be found. Eliza, the granddaughter of Sarah, who put in a rather unexpected appearance in the 1851 Census turned out to be the illegitimate daughter of a Catherine Ann Hutley who must therefore have been a child of Thomas and Sarah. Where Catherine was staying at the time of both censuses is a mystery. However the baby was born in Layer Marney and although no father is named on Eliza's birth certificate there is possibly a clue to his identity in one of the other names given to the baby, - 'Everett'. It seems a bit too much of a coincidence that there was a family of that name living next door.

Extract from Birth Certificate

When and where BornName
SexName & Surname of FatherName & Surname of MotherOccupation of FatherSignature of Informant
Fifth of June 1843
Layer Marney
Eliza Ann EverittFCatherine Ann HutleyCatherine Ann Hutley

In the hope that Grandma Sarah was still living her birthplace when she got married, the Halstead registers were perused and there sure enough was the record showing that a Sarah Arnell married Thomas Hutley on 5th May 1797. Moreover, according to the register, Thomas came from Bradwell. So Thomas (of Layer Marney) lived once at Bradwell and William (of Layer Breton) and Jonathan (of Layer Marney) were born there. The chance that they were all related looked even more possible.

At this point on the trail, by good fortune, a copy of Jonathan's will was obtained. He had made it on 28th February 1885, just before he died in April of the same year. His burial is recorded in the Layer Marney registers on 17th April - his wife having died three years before. His will, witnessed by the Rev. Cartwright, Rector of Layer Marney, and William Dennis, a farmer of Layer Marney, bequeathed all his estate and effects "real and personal of which I die possessed . . . . unto my three sisters Henrietta Ely, Catherine Ann Hutley, and Eliza Christian". This seemed to be proof that Jonathan's two children had died, otherwise surely they would have been the legatees. The Executors of the estate (£224. 8s. 3d.) were John Ely and Eliza Christian. Henrietta and Catherine Ann were known (from the 1841 census) to be the children of Thomas and Sarah, and if they were Jonathan's sisters, here was the proof of a relationship between Thomas and Jonathan - they were father and son. And what of the three sisters?

A hasty search of the census of 1881 showed that Henrietta Ely (née Hutley) and her husband, John, were living at White House Farm in Birch with their children and also with Frederick, Henrietta's brother. He was described as a blacksmith but where he was working was unclear. He was 63 years old by this point so perhaps he had retired, or perhaps he still worked with Jonathan as presumably had been the case in 1851 when he was still living at home with his mother after his father had died. Catherine Ann who was already known as the unmarried mother of Eliza Ann Everett was obviously still alive when Jonathan made his will, but where she lived - indeed where she had ever lived - remains a mystery. It was possible to track down the third sister, Eliza, through the records in St. Catherine's House. She was married in London at St. Mary's Whitechapel in 1840. She had a London address but was not registered as having any occupation. Her husband was an engineer, the son of a shipwright.

The 1851 census showed another Hutley family in the villages, living at Easthorpe St. which was in the Parish of Birch. Were they related in any way? James, the head of this family, aged 38, was described as a blacksmith and Beerhouse Keeper. He had a wife, Biddy, aged 38 and a daughter of 10, Joanna. The household was completed by his brother, John, aged 36, also a blacksmith. Both James and John were born in Layer Marney.

The John in this entry is the right age and born at the right place to be the John who figures in the 1841 census for Layer Marney as the son of Thomas and Sarah. In which case James must also have been their son. Their family grows ever larger.

James and John disappear from view after the entry in the 1851 Census. However a James Hutley, of the right age, was buried in Easthorpe church in 1863.

Male descendants of Thomas and Sarah seem then to have died out - unless of course William of Layer Breton was their oldest son, for which as yet there was no evidence. The 1851 Census showed that William was still blacksmith at Layer Breton but only the twins, Harriet and George, his youngest children were still at home by then - the other four were no longer there. The two girls could have got married but there was no record in the Layer Breton marriage register and one might have expected them to marry from home. Equally however there was no record of any deaths in the family by this date. Perhaps they and the boys were working away. As we will see, one of the boys, Frederick, did reappear in the district, but the eldest girl Elizabeth is not heard of again. A tombstone in Layer Breton churchyard tells us that the other two, Joseph and Mary Ann, did in fact die although not until some time after the census. On a sandstone plaque is the inscription:-
"In memory of MARY ANN HUTLEY daughter of WILL and ELLIZ HUTLEY of this parish who died Sept 10 1857 Aged 20 years. Also on her left lieth JOSEPH their son who died May 16 1852 Aged 19 years."
The initials MAH 1857 JH 1852 are carved on a footstone. From the way the inscription is recorded it looks as if it were made at the time of Mary's death. Perhaps when Joseph died the parents could not afford an elaborate monument but five years later money was more plentiful.

The baptismal registers of Layer Breton Church were found to contain a record of the baptisms of all of William's children, except Elizabeth - presumably the family had been living somewhere else when she was born. There was also a record of the baptism on 17th May 1829 of another son, William Charles, whose existence up to this point was unsuspected. He must already have left home by the time of the 1841 census, although he would only have been 12.

The trail led next to the 1871 census (by some mischance missing out 1861 which proved to be an unfortunate loss of direction). William was still living at Layer Breton but he was now widowed and his youngest son, George, also a blacksmith, had taken over as Head of the household. He was married with a six month old daughter.

More unexpectedly, another of William's sons, Frederick, who had not appeared on the 1851 census turned up in 1871 living at Heckford Bridge, himself a successful blacksmith. He was married and had a daughter, Emily, aged 10. He also had a servant, Samuel Nice, so presumably was doing quite well.

The parish records provided more details of Frederick's marriage. It took place on 8th January 1863 and the bride was the daughter of Joseph Runnicles, a farmer of Birch.

The 1871 census for Layer Marney showed Jonathan and Agnes still together and now they had a servant living with them, a blacksmith, who was not described as a relation of theirs but nonetheless had the same surname. He was called Walter Hutley and his place of birth given as Feering. Perusal of the Feering registers showed him to be the son of a Thomas Hutley, also a blacksmith, and a lady called Susannah. He was baptised in Feering on 8.9.1832 and was joined by a brother, Thomas, in 1835 and a sister, Harriet Marie, in 1836. Was this family also related or was it just coincidence that Jonathan should have a servant with the same family name? The problems were growing rather than lessening.

What would the census for 1881 add to the picture? George was still at Layer Breton with his aged father, William. However he had remarried, - a young lady from London. A tombstone in Layer Breton churchyard recorded his first wife's death.
"In affectionate remembrance of Eliza Hutley who departed this life Jan 3rd 1874 aged 32 years.
    "She stood around the throne
    Mid the palaces of light
    She took her harp of glory
    With raptures of delight."
George and his second wife had started another family - so far however all daughters. It began to look as though William's line, like Thomas's, was going to die out with no-one to carry on the blacksmith tradition. Of his other sons, Frederick at Heckford Bridge, unusually for that day and age still seemed only to have managed the one child, a daughter. Joseph as we have seen was dead, William Charles had disappeared from view after his baptism.

The 1891 census cannot be examined until 1991 so further information had to be sought from other sources. So it was back to the parish records, which fortunately once more proved helpful. William died in 1884 aged 84 but his son George went on adding to his family. Alice Mary, the child of his first wife was followed by Mabel Lily and Ellen Mary born in 1880 and 1881. Then on 4th June 1882 Harriet Maud was baptised, on 23rd September 1883 Ada Isabel, and on 30th November 1884 Grace Elsie. There was a surprising pause at this point but then on the 1st April 1888 another girl, Hilda Gertrude, was christened. Fourteen months later on the 9th June - at long last a baby boy was baptised with the family names of George Frederick William. Sadly on the 29th July the family returned to the church for the burial of this long awaited baby boy - he was only four months old. A year later on the 19th May another girl was christened but either the family were too dispirited to bother or else they had run out of girls' names as this last child was called only Dorothy. Hilda Gertrude joined her brother in the churchyard shortly after the birth of Dorothy. So George had no sons to take over his forge and when he died in 1897, he left all his effects to his wife - all £72 10s.

Frederick, his older brother, as already mentioned, had only a daughter, Emily, to whom he left his property when he died in the same year as George. However he left rather more money £883. 5s. 9d. - only having one child clearly made a difference to profits. Emily did her best to keep tradition going by marrying a blacksmith whom she put in her father's forge, but the Hutley name had died in this branch of the family too.

At this point the 1861 census record, previously ignored as unlikely to give any additional information about the Hutleys, was examined in pursuit of something quite different and found to contain real treasure. This was a real lesson never to leave out any possible source of information however unlikely.

The Layer Marney census surprisingly showed William, the son of Jonathan and Agnes living at home with them. Assumption of his death had been premature. However he was not shown as having any occupation so presumably he was not carrying on the family tradition and as he was not named in his father's will, perhaps it is safe to say that William did die before Jonathan. Where he was in 1851 and what he was doing remain a mystery.

Even more exciting, however, was the 1861 entry for Layer Breton reproduced below.

NameAgeStatusOccupationPlace of Birth
William60     HeadBlacksmith emplying son.   Bradwell
Frederick     25SonBlacksmithLayer Breton
George21SonBlacksmithLayer Breton
Harriet21Daughter   Layer Breton

Here, although described as a visitor, was clearly William's missing son who up to this point had been known of only through the entry of his baptism in the parish register. Strangely enough, Fanny also appeared in the Layer Breton baptismal register and the full names of her parents were recorded - William Charles Hutley and Maria - it would seem that she had been brought from Bulmer to be christened. Moreover this showed that William, unlike his brothers Frederick and George, had a son who might carry on the blacksmith tradition.

So where was this branch of the family living? Clearly, from the birthplace of the children, they spent some time in Bulmer but search of the census of 1871 for Bulmer drew a blank. Again the proverbial brick wall seemed to have brought the search to a halt - they could have moved anywhere. In desperation, a search was made of the commercial directories. These showed that there was a William Hutley, blacksmith, in Lexden in 1871. Was this the right man? Back to the library, with breath held and this time fortune smiled. It was indeed William Charles with his wife Maria. Fanny was no longer at home but William and Ellen were still there (William was now called Arthur William) and another son had been born, Frank, aged 9 years.

On, with enthusiasm, to the 1881 census. This was not so satisfying. Young William had disappeared without trace and Frank was given no occupation although by now he was 18, so as yet no evidence of the blacksmith tradition continuing.

A chance encounter in Layer Breton churchyard did produce a bit more information about this part of the family. On a visit to Essex from her present home in Yorkshire was the 80+ daughter of one of George's numerous daughters. She could remember William and Fanny and told us that William never married and although Fanny did, she had no children. Towards the end of their lives they lived together at Clifton Villas, Stanway and are buried in Stanway churchyard. However the old lady had no memory of Ellen or Frank. She has a cousin living in Clacton and this is a line of enquiry to be further pursued.

Our detective hunt had enabled us to pursue several lines of Hutleys through several generations until in each instance the male line (and hence the blacksmiths) died out. Moreover it has been possible to show how most of these lines were related. However a connection between the Thomas and William with whom we had started was still not proved. Hopefully this might be done through the Bradwell Parish records as they had both lived there at one time. Sure enough the records showed the baptism of William in 1800 and he was, as expected and hoped, the son of Thomas and Sarah. Jonathan, who was therefore William's brother, was baptised at Bradwell in 1803, the last of the family to be born in Bradwell before they all moved to Layer Marney where the younger children were born. However the baptismal records at Bradwell showed the baptism of some older children:- Thomas, b. 1798, Sarah b. 1799, Elizabeth b. 1801. Nothing is known of Sarah: Elizabeth is presumably the Eliza who figured in Jonathan's will. Thomas was eventually tracked down to Feering where he too carried on the trade of blacksmith until his early death in 1838. It was his son, Walter, who was working for his uncle Jonathan in 1871. It really had proved to be a quite amazing story. From one blacksmith, Thomas, had sprung six blacksmith sons and five blacksmith grandsons. The next question to ask was whether Thomas was the first Hutley blacksmith or whether he came from a family of blacksmiths too.

Because he died before the 1851 census there is no easy way to find out where Thomas was born but as we have seen his marriage certificate showed that he was already living in Bradwell when he married and described himself as a blacksmith. A year later he was taking on an apprentice 'from the parish'. This seems to imply that he was reasonably well established in business rather than just setting up there. There were other Hutleys in Bradwell who remained after Thomas departed to Layer Marney. A Charles Hutley took over the work of the smithy, but it seemed to be owned by an extremely wealthy Hutley, another William. This William is variously described in the directories as a farmer and a blacksmith. The land records show him buying and selling property throughout the first half of the nineteenth century - he was ninety when he died in 1855. Were Thomas, Charles and William related? The Bradwell parish registers proved unhelpful. The baptism of William was there alright showing him to be one of many children born to a William Hutley and Catharine (née Fairhead). Although a Charles appeared among these children, he was not the right age to be our Charles and there was no Thomas at all. So perhaps they were not after all related. Very disappointing! However all was not lost as William proved to have left a very long and detailed will - not surprising considering the amount of property he owned at the time of his death. Its numerous pages took some deciphering but it all proved worthwhile when almost at the end appeared this paragraph. "I give and bequeath unto my brothers, Thomas Hutley and Charles Hutley, the sum of £19 19s. each to be paid to them by my Executors within two calendar months next after my decease." So William did have brothers called Thomas and Charles. A codicil to the will proves that they were the Thomas and Charles in which we were interested. "This is a codicil to the last Will and testament of me William Hutley of Bradwell next Coggeshall in the county of Essex, Farmer, being dated 8th June 1848 whereas since the date of my said Will, my brothers Thomas Hutley and Charles Hutley legatees therein named have both departed this life, each of them leaving a widow now living now it is my will and desire that my trustees and executors therein named and appointed do and shall from and immediately after my decease pay to the widow of each of the said Thomas Hutley and Charles Hutley a weekly sum of one shilling for and during their respective natural lives to each of whom I give and bequeath the same accordingly by which weekly payments of one shilling to each widow I direct my said trustees and executors make provision out of my residuary estate given and bequeathed by my said will to my daughter Elizabeth Hutley . . . . dated 23 day March 1849". From the register of deaths we know that our Thomas and Charles died in this period between June and March so the relationship is proved conclusively.

The Elizabeth named as the residuary legatee was one of three daughters born to William - two legitimate and one unashamedly acknowledged in the will as illegitimate. Elizabeth married her cousin Jonathan Hutley, the son of William's brother, John, and became part of the Rivenhall branch of the Hutley family which became quite wealthy and owned or farmed among other places, Abbott's Hall, Powers Hall and Durwards Hall.

Little is known of the William and Catherine who were Thomas's parents but his grandfather Hutley - also a William left a will from which it is clear that he too was a blacksmith. It seems likely (although not absolutely proven) that this William was the son of an Anthony Hutley who died in 1725 leaving a quite splendid will. The property, including a smithy, went to his sons but his wife and granddaughter were not forgotten.
"I give devise and bequeath unto my said wife the use only for her life of the several goods hereinafter mentioned, that is to say, of my clock, my best bed with the appurtenances to the same now standing in my parlour, two pairs of sheets, one hanging press, one warming pan, the two largest kettles, one porridge pot, one large skillett, one new half hogshead, one jack and spitt, all the fire irons, one pair of bellows, one press cupboard, four earthenware, two tables, two raised chairs, one armed chair and the large looking glass . . . . I give devise and bequeath unto my granddaughter, Mary Hutley, daughter of my said son Anthony Hutley, one trunk with all the linen that is now in it and the said trunk is now standing in my dwelling house and I will that the said trunk and linen shall remain in the hands of my said wife until my said granddaughter shall attain unto the age of one and twenty years."

So links have been found between the Hutleys of Birch, Layer Breton, Layer Marney, Feering, Bradwell and Rivenhall. That however is not the end of the story. There are other Hutleys in Braintree, Notley, the Teys who surely must all be related - to say nothing of those centred around Stansted whose direct descendant, now living in Dorset has joined in to help us in this detective hunt. He is convinced that they are all part of one great family tree and is working to prove it.

(Appendix A shows a Hutley family tree)


When Frederick Hutley became smith at Heckford Bridge, he bought the smithy off the executors of the previous smith, a man called Isaac Munson. Something is known of Isaac because of the book written by Rev. Harrison about Isaac's daughter, Emma. The book - entitled The Light of the Forge or Counsels Drawn from the Sick-bed of E.M. - is a mixture of Rev. Harrison's own thoughts with extracts from the letters and conversations of Emma. In spite of being a relatively uneducated girl, Emma found, following a powerful conversion experience, that she had a gift for preaching and counselling which she practised through the rest of her life although she was confined to bed and subject to the severe fits from which she died at an early age.

The book starts with a description of the smithy at Heckford Bridge. The scene is still recognisable though the smithy itself was taken down some years ago to allow the road to be straightened.
"As the traveller journeys from the venerable town of Colchester to that of its rival neighbour of Maldon, after passing over some five miles of ordinary-looking country, with pretty bits of woodland scattered here and there between, he comes to a spot where the road turns at a right angle down a sharp pitch of a hill. The ground over which he has been passing is probably commemorated in the pages of Tacitus; and the two towns just mention, claim respectively the honour of having born the ancient title of Camulodunum, an honour, however, which most antiquarians seem disposed to assign to Colchester.

On reaching the foot of this hill, and ere he begins to ascend another, he must pass through a stream of water which runs merrily over a bed of shingle and gravel across the road. This stream is dignified with the high-sounding title of 'Roman River'. It takes it rise some few miles further up the country, and flows through a rich and grassy valley, where in spring and summer time the bright eyes of many a wild flower enamel the carpet of green. Onwards it runs, sometimes faster, sometimes more slowly, like the uncertain wishes of our hearts, until it joins the River Colne, and with it, loses itself in the sea. In its way thither it is joined by the contributions of many springs. Among others, there is one which, emerging from the bosom of the opposite hill, trickles down at the back of a cluster of buildings, and mingles itself with the waters of the river close by the side of the road. The traveller might not notice this, but for its eddying round the walls of the lower range of buildings which contain the blacksmith's forge. The scene is both pretty and striking. The walls of the shed stand very near the water, separated only by a railing, and, on the other side of the road, the stream is crossed by one of those old and simple wooden bridges for the conveyance of foot passengers which we still meet with now and then in the country. It seldom happens that more is needed; but the bright and quiet-looking rivulet sometimes vindicates its claim to the rank of a river. For after a continuous rain, the waters hurry down from the upper country, and render the ford impassable either to man or horse; and thus Heckford Bridge, like other earthly things, comes in for its share of the vicissitudes of time."

Isaac initially did not share his daughter's Christian convictions :-
"Isaac M. was what the world would call a good-natured man. In other words, he had many nice qualities, but the most prominent failing in his character was an inability to resist those temptations to which natural kindliness of disposition renders a man so liable - the temptations of what is termed good-fellowship. His business of necessity carried him much about the country. He was widely known and it was through the associations into which this sort of life brought him that he fell into a sin which for many years proved itself his master, in spite of resolutions (made in his own strength), and which, but for the grace of God, in answer to the prayer of this child, would have ruined him for ever.

For Isaac M. was a tender-hearted man. His heart was keenly alive to the domestic affections; and, strangely enough, during his life of sin, he maintained one singular inconsistency, for he would never touch anything connected with his worldly business on the Sabbath. Not that he cared for the service of God, for he was not a frequent attendant at public worship, and was often a hinderer of others."

However he did in fact attend church on some occasions and following one such attendance, he came to see the error of his ways.

"From that day his mind appears to have acquired a power of decision previously unknown. So plain, so marked was the change, that it became the talk of the neighbourhood. And then began his real struggle. Various were the efforts of his old associates to draw him back into sin, but in vain. First ridicule, then abuse was tried; but he bore it all with patience. One instance of this was mentioned to the writer by Emma herself, as she received it from the lips of her father. He was much pressed by an old acquaintance, on one occasion when attending Colchester market, to enter the inn and drink wine. This he declined, though several times urged to do so and bantered about his refusal till at length his friend, no longer able to restrain his vexation, said derisively, "That parson is driving you out of your senses." 'Nay,' replied Isaac mildly, "he is rather driving me into them."

Isaac died suddenly at quite a young age leaving his wife to cope with a large family of children and a lot of problems.
"Scarcely had the stricken family recovered from the shock of Isaac M's removal, when they were called upon to take leave of another member. A promising lad, who had scarcely numbered sixteen summers, was carried off with a species of brain fever."

Not long after, on the 16th April 1852, "E. M. was released, and on the 27th her remains were laid by the side of her beloved Father."

In his will Isaac left all his possessions to his wife. Presumably she kept the business going until the children were grown up, as it was not until ten years later that the smithy and his other property was put on the market. The notice of sale survives (see below). Frederick Hutley was clearly just the sort of up and coming young man the estate agent was looking for.

Particulars & conditions of sale of valuable
by direction of the Executor of the
blacksmith, farrier & wheelwright.

consisting of
let to respectable Tenants, near Lot 1, but in the Parish of Stanway
(as staked out) with
etc. adjoining lot 2
The auctioneer begs to invite public attention to Lot 1, where a most lucrative trade has been carried on; and to an enterprising young man the above offers advantages rarely to be met with, the trade in the immediate neighbourhood being of a first class description.


Norfolk is a name that appears often in the records and annals of Birch and the surrounding district. The tithe schedule of 1841 shows that a Joseph Norfolk was farming a considerable amount of land in Birch as a tenant of the Rounds and other local landowners. A fascinating document survives and was shown to us by Mrs. E. Norfolk which is an agreement between this Joseph and the Rev. James Round concerning some property leased to Joseph. The amount of the rent is income linked and fluctuates according to the price of wheat rather than the other way around.

"The covenants as to the cultivation, repairs, carting coals, turkey at Christmas etc. are to be the same as under the former agreements, except that the Tenant is to keep the house in repair as well as the rest of the premises, rough timber bricks tiles and lime being provided by the landlord. The rent is to be one hundred & sixty pounds when the average price of a load of wheat at Colchester market during the previous six months has been fifteen pounds or upwards. The rent is to be one hundred and fifty pounds when the average price of wheat as aforesaid has been less than fifteen pounds. The rent is to be one hundred and forty pounds when the price of wheat as aforesaid has been less than twelve pounds. The rent is to be one hundred and thirty pounds when the price of wheat as aforesaid has been less than ten pounds." (Nov. 1854)

The name of the property to which this document refers is not mentioned but in 1851 Joseph was living at Brakes Farm in Copford with his wife, Thamar, and three children all of whom had been born at Copford. His eldest son had left home and was living at Garlands Farm in Birch. Although only 23 years old he is described on the census as a farmer of 210 acres (only 30 acres less than his father) and employing ten labourers. One of his sisters, Emma, was staying with him on the night of the census but otherwise he apparently shared the house only with his cousin, Maria, a spinster of 34, described as a butcher's daughter.

When Joseph died, his eldest son remained at his own farm in Birch and it was James, the youngest son, who took over the farm at Copford, although he farmed less land than had his father - 162 rather than 248 acres. James died in 1887 and somewhat surprisingly was buried at St Peter's in Birch. His will named his wife, Sarah, and his brother, Joseph, as executors and the main beneficiaries were his two children Annie and Arthur. Annie was specifically left two cottages in Blind Lane. Otherwise everything was divided between them.

The younger Joseph seems to have gone from strength to strength. By the 1881 census he had increased his farm to 420 acres and was employing 15 men and 3 boys. His eldest daughter Elizabeth had married in 1879 William Golden Fairhead, the son of Golden Fairhead from Peldon. The Fairheads too figure in the records of the period as considerable farmers so the alliance joined two eminent local families.


From 1871, over the United Kingdom generally, both the birth and death rates started to decline. In the rural areas particularly, the birth rate went down. The word "contraceptive" came into regular use. It is estimated that half the labouring classes attempted some form of birth control.

This national picture is reflected locally. In Birch and Layer Breton the numbers baptised during the period 1870-1890 were on the decline.

1870/74     120
1875/79     103
1880/84     83
1885/89     64

However, in spite of the availability of contraceptives, there was quite a number of illegitimate births. In the period 1870/90, there were 30 in Birch and 4 in Layer Breton.

By the end of the century, the population in the three villages was starting to decline. However, as the falling birth rate was accompanied by a falling death rate, other factors must also have been playing a part - perhaps migration from the country to the towns.

It was during this period that talk of the pressures of modern living came into vogue. The Registrar General pointed out in 1885 that:
"the struggle for existence is clearly becoming more and more severe and that the feverish excitement and reckless expenditure are rapidly encroaching on repose and leisure are matters of common observation. The wear and tear of life are greater and vitality is sooner exhausted."


Analysis of the parish registers for a twenty year period from 1870 - 1890 confirms some of the impressions gained from the Census. Even towards the end of the century it is clear that marriage was still very much a local affair. During this period, of the marriages which took place in Birch and Layer Breton:-

51% were between residents of the same village;
12% were between residents of Birch, Layer Breton and Layer Marney;
19% were with people from Colchester;
06% were with people from other parts of Essex.
Total 88%

The other 12% were marriages between the local residents and 'real' outsiders, namely one lady from Higham in Suffolk and men from:-

Waltham Green, Middlesex.Plasnewydd, North Wales.
Kensal Green, Middlesex. West Hartlepool.
Newington.All Hallows, London.
Navenby, Lincs.Linstead.
Rochester.Shepherds Bush.
Hove, Brighton. Mary le Bone, London.
Hulme, Manchester.

These marriages were more usually among members of the middle classes although a few labourers' daughters found husbands from a distance. They were between:-

A Chemist and a Chemist's daughter;
A Farmer and a Farmer's daughter;
A Bricklayer and a Foreman's daughter;
A Tailor and a Labourer's daughter;
A Police Inspector and a Policeman's daughter;
A Policeman and a Gardener's daughter;
A Clerk in the Civil Service and a National School Master's daughter;
A Miller and a Miller's daughter;
A Railway Porter and an Agricultural Labourer's daughter;
A Cleric and a Yeoman's daughter;
A Clergyman (Minor Canon) and the daughter of the Rector of the Parish;
A Clerk in the Great Western Railway and a National School Master's daughter;
A Coachman and a Carpenter's daughter;
An Office Clerk and a Labourer's daughter;
An Innkeeper and a Carpenter's daughter;
A daughter of a Groom and Gardener and a Labourer.

Not only did the villagers choose to marry locals, they also tended to marry within the same class, and even the same occupational group.

Of the 141 marriages, 90 were between men and the daughters of men in exactly the same occupation. Of these:-

79 were labourers marrying labourers' daughters;
7 were farmers marrying farmers' daughters;
1 was a policeman marrying a policeman's daughter;
2 were millers marrying millers' daughters;
1 was a clergyman marrying a clergyman's daughter.

11 were between tradesmen and the daughters of tradesmen but of a different trade;
9 were between men in the upper / middle class and the daughters of men in the upper / middle class but of a different profession;
17 were between labourers and the daughters of tradesmen;
14 were between tradesmen and the daughters of labourers.

Just as daughters were unlikely to improve their social station by marrying advantageously, sons rarely improved on their fathers' status. The parish records show that out of 141 bridegrooms, 109 were following exactly the same occupation as their fathers. Of these:-

89 were labourers and the sons of labourers;
10 were tradesmen and the sons of men in the same trade;
10 were upper/middle class men following the same profession as their fathers.

7 of the bridegrooms were tradesmen and the sons of tradesmen but with fathers in a different trade;
5 of the bridegrooms were upper/middle class and the sons of upper/middle class fathers but of a different profession;
12 sons had acquired a status higher than their fathers';
5 sons of tradesmen had dropped to the status of labourer.

However, in spite of this lack of social mobility, educational achievements were increasing during the century as indicated by the number of people who were able to sign the marriage register with their names instead of merely a cross.


Census returns were begun in 1841 and have continued since on a ten yearly cycle. The project group decided to look at the 1881 figures (the last available to the public) to see what the population looked like approximately a hundred years ago.

In 1881 the population of Birch was 873, - 432 men and 441 women. There were 107 households with an average of 4.7 members in each. Just over half of the inhabitants had been born in Birch itself and 85% in Essex. Essex in this context means the villages surrounding Birch - no one for example moved to Birch from Colchester. 10% came from neighbouring Suffolk, leaving 38 genuine 'incomers'. These came from all over England, together with 2 from Ireland, 2 from Scotland, and 1 from Natal. The incomers were almost entirely either professional / middle class people or servants in the big houses, notably Birch Hall, the home of the Round family.

The picture was much the same in the two Layers. The population of Layer Breton was 293 in 58 households with an average of 5.05 to each. In Layer Marney there were 258 people in 48 households which made them rather more crowded with 5.37 to a house. The Layers were equally insular with 97% of Layer Marney born in Essex and 91% of Layer Breton. Between them they boasted two natives of Ireland, 1 from Scotland, and rather surprisingly 2 from Illinois.

Of the male population in Birch, 41% were farm labourers and another 10% were in occupations related to agriculture. 36% were under working age, leaving only 13% in other occupations. The census records that the farmers of the village employed 64 men and 16 boys. This leaves 100 men and boys who must have been employed out of the village or be working for themselves. Agriculture was the main occupation in the Layers as well, with the farmers of Layer Marney having to import some labour, but certainly not taking up all the surplus from Birch and Layer Breton.

A relatively small proportion of the women gave an occupation in the census. In Birch, 12% were tailoresses presumably at Hollingtons, 9% domestic servants, and 4% in a variety of other jobs. 40% were under working age. The figures were similar for the other two villages.

It would appear that five was the normal age for starting school although one four year old was described as a scholar. The leaving age was generally 13 but 11 year olds did work.

The most common surnames were:-

In BirchIn Layer BretonIn Layer Marney
Taylor36 in 8 households     Bond19 in 4     Taylor24 in 5
Fisher37 in 7 householdsReeve18 in 4Smith14 in 4
Smith32 in 8 householdsSmith13 in 3Harvey11 in 2
Goody27 in 5 householdsSouth13 in 3Playle10 in 1
Potter23 in 5 householdsPartner12 in 3
Everitt19 in 6 householdsHoward 11 in 3
Humphreys19 in 5 householdsSpooner10 in 3
Whybrow15 in 1 householdsRowe10 in 1
Polley14 in 5 households
Reeve14 in 5 households

Christian names displayed none of the variety of modern days. There were only 63 male first names. The most common were:- William, John, Charles, Thomas, Samuel, Henry, Walter, Arthur, George, Alfred.

Women's names were similarly few, the most popular being:- Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Emma, Eliza, Alice, Ellen, Emily, Louisa, Ann, Harriet.

Families, as one would expect, were often large. Four had ten children each, one had nine, and five had eight.

The oldest inhabitants in all the villages were into their eighties: there was even a 90 year old in Layer Marney. Analysis of the burial records show the average life expectancy was 49 years in the latter part of the century. Overall the women proved themselves the stronger sex with an average survival of 51.1 years, as compared to the men's 48.7. However this was due to the longevity of the ladies of the Layers. In Birch, the sexes had equal life expectancy.

Both sexes, if they managed to survive the first two years of life, had a very good chance indeed of reaching 60, if not 70 or 80. Between 1870 and 1890 more people died after reaching 60 than died between the ages of 2 and 59.

However, if you look at the age distribution at the time of the 1881 census, the numbers in each age band become less as the age increases. Either the age of death was beginning to change or a quite considerable migration out of the villages had begun.


A full perusal of the Essex papers to find references to the villages would be a lengthy task. All we did was make a random dip in the papers of 1881. This was what we found.

September 9th 1881

In a letter to the Times quoted in the above paper. 'Here in the wheat growing district of North Essex we are suffering severely from the effects of the unsettled weather.'

'A magnificent collection of roses, numbering about 1000, was given by Mr R.R. Cant of Colchester to be sold for the benefit of the Ipswich and East Suffolk Hospital and realised £4.15s.

1st January 1881


The decorations are very chaste this year but few - being confined principally to the Altar, Font, Pulpit and Chancel Screen. The tracery of the Pulpit and Font is prettily decorated with wreaths of variegated holly and ivy. The services commenced on Christmas Day with Morning Prayer, Holy Communion at 10.30 am. and at 8 pm. there was a bright and hearty Evensong followed by the singing of carols. The services were fairly attended, the afternoon congregation being exceptionally good for a country parish on Christmas Day.

January 1881

Charles Skelton, labourer of Birch, was summoned for being drunk and violent in Birch, on the 30th December. The Police Constable heard the defendant swearing near Heckford Bridge and another man trying to get him home, but the defendant would not go but would go back and have it out before he went home. He came back to the Police Officer and used most filthy language.
The defendant said it was the day the Hounds went out and the Pub was giving away a little beer.

(Charles Skelton appears in the 1881 Census living at Pudding Green. He is described as an agricultural labourer and as the Head of a Household consisting in addition to himself of Mrs Jane Bell, the Housekeeper and a Tailoress and two boarders Wlliam Bell aged 16 and Harriet Bell aged 7.)

September 23rd 1881

Messrs. Surridge & Son will sell by Public Auction on Wednesday 28th September at 10 for 10.30 o'clock by order of the proprietor who is quitting Boarded Barn Farm, Birch.

The whole of the Live and Dead Farming Stock, comprising
3 valuable draught horses
1 donkey
Swine and poultry

Wagons, tumbrills, harrows, rolls, ploughs, dressing machines, donkey tumbrill, spring cart, plough and cart horses, hard bars, garden tools, a large portion of household furniture, comprising mahogany dining tables and chairs, sideboard, sofa, carpet, fenders, beds, drawers, etc.

29th October 1881

Report on Petty Sessions at Colchester Crown Court

Benjamin Bentley of Berechurch, Colchester and Humphrey Williamson, labourer, Layer Marney, were summoned for being drunk while in charge of a waggon and horses on the highway at Birch on the 24th instant.
The men are in the employ of O.E. Coope MP of Berechurch Hall. They had been sent for a load of straw from Mr Tiffen's and got so drunk they turned the horses over in a ditch.
They were fined £1 and £2. 2s. 6d. costs.

ESSEX WEEKLY NEWS 23rd July 1881

On Wednesday, the 21st July, a two day bazaar commenced. The grand affair (the biggest bazaar ever held in Essex) was held in the grounds of East Hill House by kind permission of Mrs. George Round. The purpose of the bazaar was to raise funds to cover a debt of £2,200 incurred through improvements to the Essex and Colchester Hospital. It was opened by the Sheriff of the County and was attended by a large but select company including Mr. R.K. Couston MP and Mr. James Round MP. Five regimental bands and Officers of the Garrison gave performances. Flowers were provided by B.R. Cant.

Typical of the newspaper jokes of the day and to show there is nothing new about today's awful jokes:

John Bull's very latest:
Why is the American Eagle gazing on the setting sun, like an heir entering his possessions?
Because he has got his beak west.

Extracts about the district from the Victoria History of Essex (published 1907)

Bentley Green . . . . was also famed for its cricket from an early date. Danbury Common and Layer Breton Heath may also be mentioned in the same category.

In 1839 Colchester Grammar School was described as being low in funds - an exchange of the premises in Head Street for land in Layer Breton was also a disastrous investment.

"The principal trees," according to R.H.J. Round, "are oak and ash, the former of oak was a valuable asset in the last century, the timber being of good quality. Each wood is divided into falls and the underwoods comprising hazel, ash, hornbeam, oak with birch and chestnut on light and sandy soils are cut in the months of December and January when from 12 to 18 years old. The ground being cleared admits of the marking of such timber as is required which is then cut down and peeled as soon as the sap begins to run and the bark is sent off to the tanners yard involving often a journey of some 20 - 30 miles.
Underwoods are cut according to the judgement of skilled woodmen for such purposes such as rake handles, linen props, thatching rods, hurdle stuff, birch brooms, faggots, etc. The value of faggots is much diminished of late years, the expense of cutting being in some instances barely realised after a sale by auction."

From Essex Arch. Soc. Trans. Vol. 22 Miss A. D. Harrison

Little Birch Holt (formerly known as New Holt)

This was inherited from the Eldreds by a Miss Elizabeth Harrison who in her will (1839) left "my estate, called Little Birch Holt, late in the occupation of Thomas Hellen and now of John Smith to the four daughters of my twin brother, John Haynes Harrison of Copford Hall." The farm was then valued at £640.
In the next generation, the farm was in the joint possession of:-
Samuel (afterwards Sir Samuel) Ruggles Brise
Thomas Haynes Harrison
William Thomas Harrison
W. T. Harrison inherited from T. H. Harrison in 1895 and bought the remaining share in 1901 - after Samuel died - from Mr A. W. Ruggles Brise for the convenience of having the farm in single ownership.

In 1834 it was described by the then owner, Mr Glover:-
"It retains the greater part of the moat, and traces of the old fashioned methods of farming etc. are still in evidence. A saw pit exists and also a wood - the latter being a necessity in former days for providing timber and fuel, further the acorns supplied a great deal of the winter feed for pigs. There is a rope hanging from one of the rafters in the old barn by means of which the men used to help themselves up onto the corn when it was cut by sickle and stored there and threshed by flail during the winter. In one of the bedrooms there is a trap door in the floor, through which the men entered by a ladder. Behind the modern stove in the living room is a wide open fireplace, and at the back of the fireplace in the kitchen the iron arms with adjustable hook for hanging the kettle on is still in place."

Birch Holt (formerly Old Holt)

A considerable house called Old Holt belonged to the Haynes family. John Haynes became the first Governor, first of Massachusetts and then of Connecticut. He sold it to finance the American communities. In 1814 Old Holt belonged to John Wright as is witnessed by a deed (handed over to the Round family when they bought it in 1906). It refers to the manor and farm of Old Holt and the manor house then or heretofore called Old Holt with the farmlands belonging thereto situate in the parishes of Great and Little Birch, Copford, Layer Marney and Messing in the occupation of Stephen Baker. The copy of a plan presumably attached to the deed corresponds with the schedule dated 16.4.1852 describing the house as Birch Holt. Mr Sherwood, the owner in 1940, bought the property from the Rounds. The real farmhouse gives no outward impression of antiquity although within there are some old timbers but the original house presumably stood about 100 yards to the S.S.E. where traces of a homestead moat are clearly visible and it is here that remains of old buildings have been found. A row of great elms, once forming part of an avenue leading from the road points towards the field on which these remains are situated.


The original firm of Hollington Brothers Ltd., commenced as Wholesalers of Men's Clothing in the Mile End Road in London about 1850. The firm then took over two retail shops run by A.J. & G Hollington. These two gentlemen were the original Brothers. The business moved to two new warehouses in Middlesex Street, E.1, about 1890 and traded in all forms of clothing and textiles as Manufacturers, Merchants, and Shippers.
The Hollington connection with this area goes back to 1898 when the present Mr Hollington's grandfather moved the manufacturing of menswear to Colchester, taking over Kavenagh's Boot factory in Stanwell Street when that company ceased trading. As well as the factory in Stanwell Street, Colchester, the purchase also included some cottages at Coggeshall where outwork was done. The cottages were soon demolished and a single storey factory was built on the site which is still known as Hollingtons. The firm also bought the property in Birch. In Hollingtons' time this was mainly used as depot for collection and distribution to the outworkers and not long as a factory. Mrs. Burmby, who only died ten years ago, was the forelady and lived next door to the factory.

Below is the retail bespoke price list dated around 1870.

£   s   d     £   s   d     £  s   d    £  s  d    £  s  d
Trousers (dress 1/- extra)   010   6013 0     0 140 0 166 0 186
Vests0  6  6080    0 8 6 0 9 6 0 100
Jackets018   0140    1 5 0 1 100 1 160
Morning Coats1  1  0170    1 8 6 1 130 1 190
Tourists' Tweeds 115   0250    2 100 2 150 3 5 0
Dress Suits210   0300    3 5 0 3 100 4 0 0
Morning Coats1  7  6112 6    1 150 2 0 0 2 5 0
Overcoats1  1  0176    1 100 1 150 2 0 0
Overcoats1  5  0112 0    1 150 2 2 0 2 5 0
Ulsters Gents112   0176    2 2 0 2 6 0 2 100
Ulsters Ladies 110   0200    2 5 0 2 100 1 120


At the end of the day we seem to have raised as many questions as we have answered. To name just a few:-

What did Basil Harrison do at the House of Commons?
What happened to the violin collection?
Why did the Revd Farman go to Turkey?
Who paid for the freehold of the Congregational Church?
Where did Catherine Ann Hutley live?
What happened to Jonathan's children?
Where was Thomas born?

We have also become very aware of all the records there are which could tell us so much more about our villages if we could only find the time to read them. Probably too there are people in the area who could tell us even more. Perhaps this little leaflet will inspire some of you to delve a bit further so perhaps next year or the year after we might have a Volume 2.


Appendix A - Hutley Family Tree

The tree below should be viewed / printed using only a fixed pitch (not proportionally spaced) font.

* denotes a Blacksmith.

Anthony HUTLEY (d.1717) *
1. Thomas
2. Anthony (d.1725)
. . a. Samuel *
. . b. John
. . c. William (d.1760) * = Susannah
. . . . . 1. William * = Catherine Fairhead
. . . . . . . . a. William = 1) Rachel Orpen; 2) Amy Fairhead.
. . . . . . . . . . . 1. Sarah
. . . . . . . . . . . 2. Ann
. . . . . . . . . . . 3. Elizabeth
. . . . . . . . b. John = Susannah Orpen
. . . . . . . . . . . 1. Jonathan
. . . . . . . . . . . 2. John
. . . . . . . . . . . 3. William
. . . . . . . . c. Charles * = Sarah
. . . . . . . . . . . 1. Sarah
. . . . . . . . d. Thomas (b.1769) * of Layer Marney = Sarah Arnell (m.1797)
. . . . . . . . . . . 1. Thomas (b.1798 d.1838) * = Susannah
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . a. Walter (b.1832) *
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . b. Thomas (b.1835) *
. . . . . . . . . . . 2. Sarah (b.1799)
. . . . . . . . . . . 3. William (b.1800 d.1884) * of Layer Breton = Elizabeth
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . a. Elizabeth
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . b. William Charles (b.1829) * of Lexden = Maria
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. William
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Frank
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Ellen
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Maria
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . c. Mary Ann (d.1857 aged 20 years)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . d. Joseph (d.1852 aged 19 years)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . e. Frederick * of Heckford Bridge = Eliza
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . f. George * of Layer Breton
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . = 1) Eliza (d.1874 aged 32 years))
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.Alice Mary
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . = 2) Ellen
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Mabel Lily (b.1880)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Ellen Mary (b.1881)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Harriet Maud (b.1882)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Ada Isabel (b.1883)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Grace Elsie (b.1884)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Hilda Grtrude (b.1888)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. George Frederick William (b.1889)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9. Dorothy (b.1890)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . g. Harriet (twin sister of George)
. . . . . . . . . . . 4. Henrietta = John ELY of White House Farm, Birch.
. . . . . . . . . . . 5. Elizabeth (b.1801) = Thomas CHRISTIAN, Engineer.
. . . . . . . . . . . 6. Jonathan (d.1885) * of Layer Marney = Agnes (d.1882)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . a. William
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . b. Jesse
. . . . . . . . . . . 7. Catherine Ann
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . a. Eliza Ann Everett
. . . . . . . . . . . 8. James * = Biddy
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . a. Joanna
. . . . . . . . . . . 9. John *
. . . . . . . . . . . 10. Frederick *
. . . . . . . . e. daughter
. . . . . . . . f. daughter
. . . . . . . . g. daughter
. . . . . 2. John
. . . . . 3. daughter
. . . . . 4. daughter
. . . . . 5. daughter
. . . . . 6. daughter
. . . . . 7. daughter
. . d. Antony
. . e. Thomas
3. daughter
4. daughter
5. daughter
6. daughter

AuthorJean Eames
SourceMersea Museum