|Of Highways and Travellers
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - February 1997
These "Chronicles" started as result of the interest shown in the exhibition held to commemorate the centenary of local government. Several items of even earlier dates may be of interest. Some things change over the years while others stay the same!
Three hundred and eighty years ago, at the Brentwood Assizes of 10 March 1617, it was found that "a bridge on the highway to Layer de la Haye from Birch has fallen down. It ought to be rebuilt by the heirs of Sir John Swinnertone." Just a few months later the ruling had been made more specific and Lady Thomasine Swinnertone was named as the person responsible. Quite what happened we do not know but the matter was still outstanding 4 years later! What went on in the meantime? Was it that important? What steps was her ladyship taking to avoid her responsibilities? There are things that records cannot tell us.
Highways have continued to be a matter of importance down the ages and it was the responsibility of parish surveyors to ensure that they were maintained to a good standard. Surveyors made annual reports to the magistrates and on Saturday 27 March 1847 the surveyor for Layer Breton reported to a meeting at Colchester Castle that the road from Layer Breton to Layer Marney was only 9 feet wide whereas it should have been 20 feet! The reason for this had been lost over the years and the meeting left the case unresolved!
At the same meeting Aaron Burmby was said by the Birch surveyor to have encroached on the road from Layer Breton to Layer de la Haye and notice was duly served on him to remove the fence he had erected!
The year 1847 was similar to 1997 in that it was an election year. There were considerable differences between elections in those days and what we know will happen in a few months time. In 1847 there were few electors, no Labour Party, no secret ballot, and two votes per person in this area! The very big difference was that not only was the result of the election announced in the press but, in the absence of a secret ballot, the Essex Standard of 20 August 1847 contained full details of how each person voted!
In both Layer Breton and Layer Marney six of the seven voters in each place gave their full support to the Conservative candidates. The odd one out in each parish supported the Whig candidate and did not use their other vote! Birch, however, reveals a different position. Of the fourteen voters eight fully supported the Conservatives, four voted for the Whig and four also supported Mr Harrison, a non-party candidate who gained only 44 votes in the whole constituency! The different voting patterns reflect the fact that Layer Breton and Layer Marney consisted almost entirely of farmers, who traditionally supported the Conservative party, the Birch farmers seem to have supported the Whig and non party candidates, and the tradesmen supported the Conservatives!
Locally the two Conservative candidates were elected and the Whig, whose party won an overall majority, lost out as did poor Mr Harrison. The votes cast in the constituency totalled only 6353!
Not surprisingly Charles Gray Round, of Birch Hall, voted Conservative as he was himself a candidate standing for the University of Oxford against Gladstone, a future Prime Minister, and Sir Robert Inglis. Gladstone, although coming second in the poll to Sir Robert Inglis, was elected and Round who had given up his Colchester seat to fight Gladstone was defeated.
To end this winter issue of the "Chronicles" on a more seasonal note we have heard from some people that Birch had a connection with Captain R F Scott and Antarctic exploration!
The Archivist at the Scott Polar Research Institute has very kindly supplied us with a copy of an article about Michael Barne (1877-1961)- "An Ardent Antarctic Volunteer". Michael Barne lived in Mill Road, Birch, between the wars and is said to have had a sledge and other mementos in his house and garden. Born in Suffolk he entered the Royal Navy in 1894 as a midshipman, joining the flagship of the Channel Squadron, HMS "Majestic", in 1898 where he met the torpedo lieutenant, Robert Falcon Scott.
A year later he volunteered to serve as third mate on the Discovery at one shilling (5p) per month plus £200 per annum expedition money! He took a very active part in Scott's 1901-1904 expedition, carrying out a number of surveys and was responsible for maintaining temperature readings - at one time he recorded 100° of frost! He suffered very severe frostbite with long term effects.
Returning to the RN with hopes of taking part in future explorations, he was involved in experiments with mechanised sledges. His earlier bouts of frostbite meant that he had difficulty in handling metal at low temperatures; therefore he did not join Scott on the "Terra Nova" for the ill fated 1909 expedition. He left the navy on his marriage in 1910.
During the 1914-1918 war Barne was appointed Commander in "Majestic" which was sunk in the Dardanelles in 1915 and while in this ship he was awarded the Royal Humane Society's medal for trying to rescue a seaman who had been washed overboard. He later served as captain of Monitor 27 in the Dover Patrol. He was mentioned in despatches four times and awarded the DSO. Promotion to Captain came in 1922 when he retired. In the 1939-45 war he commanded the submarine patrol ship "Radiant" in the Channel but was invalided out and retired once more. Nothing daunted though in 1944 he joined the small craft that supplied ships with stores for D-Day!
An unsung hero of the Antarctic who seems to have been quite a character and who was ready to answer the call whenever it came.
Thanks to Mrs Lynch, Col Round and others for some of the information included above.