Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - February 2001
One hundred years ago life was very different and things happened at a much slower pace than today.
Reading through the local papers for 1901 reveals that this area did not warrant a local correspondent, or Country Agent as they were then known, but this did not mean that we were entirely overlooked.
Some items we relate to quite easily. In the first issue in 1901 the Colchester Gazette announced that the Great Eastern Railway was proud of the fact that 93% of the trains arrived in Liverpool Street within 3 minutes of the scheduled time. Dream on in 2001.
There was a mild start to the year but no rain in the first few days - unlike 2001 when on the 4th it rained heavily all day. In 2001 it was noticeable that the Essex Police were keenly monitoring car speeds on Angel Hill - a hundred years ago if we had driven at more 12 m.p.h. we would have been summonsed and excessive speeding by horse and cart was also an offence.
On New Year's Day 1901 Layer de la Haye school was packed for a Magic Lantern show and lecture. Today we see January 1st as a day for celebration and partying but not so then as the subject was "Temperance". The school was said to be filled to overflowing and the speaker was greeted very enthusiastically. The paper also carried an advertisement for Blair's Gout Pills on which we offer no comment. The 115 inmates unfortunate enough to find themselves in the Lexden and Winstree Workhouse had a Christmas lunch of roast beef and plum pudding and 10 days later had an Annual Tea followed by an entertainment provided by the Misses Round assisted by Mr C Round providing a selection of music on a gramophone.
Early in the year the Revd Boyes, Layer Marney, was sued for money owed to two ladies who had taught his daughters in Brighton. The case was slightly complicated and the two sides provided much entertainment for the Court and the Press during the two day hearing. The case did little for the Reverend gentleman's reputation and neither did the result as he lost and had to pay the £20. 13.6 due. This equates to a sum of over £1,000 today.
As with 2001 a census was taken and although detailed figures, for 1901, will not be released until early next year we know that there were 767 people in Birch a fall of 102 over 1891; in Layer Breton the figure was 248 just one more than in 1891 whereas Layer Marney showed a fall of 61 to 226.
Of the few specific mentions of the three parishes Stamps and Crows was for sale by auction at the Hare and Hounds, Layer Breton, on the 6th July. Heath Farm, Birch, was sold up by the outgoing tenants Wm. and Chas. Wadley in September, and James Round decided to let out Hill Farm in October. Also in the agricultural news was the annual ploughing competition and root show in October held at Palmer's Farm by permission of Mr Ernest Fairhead. Among the "cottagers" taking prizes were names such as Bond, Burmby, Sheldrake, Faircloth, Bell, Whybrow, Green and Hutton. The show was followed by a Dinner at The Angel hosted by the landlady Mrs Goodey who served "a capital cold collation". The many toasts included "The Imperial Forces of the Crown" the Boer War being .a significant event of those days. The actual show report runs to over two columns in the paper.
In July it was decided that all elementary schools in Colchester Borough were to be closed for six weeks due to an outbreak of diphtheria which, no doubt, made more labour available for the local farms prior to harvest time. In September Mr and Mrs Harrison of Layer Marney took a "dozen harvestmen and their wives" to Yarmouth where they were "entertained with breakfast, dinner and tea ... and they returned home much pleased". Arthur Church at Hellens Farm celebrated his silver wedding by entertaining his neighbours to tea with tennis and croquet on the lawn and "a sumptuous repast was provided in a large marquee kindly lent by Mr James Round MP." Speeches and songs followed. Mr and Mrs Church's two sons in South Africa were specially remembered. The next day a harvest supper was given for a large number including employees and their wives. Mr Zach Fisher proposed the toast "and spoke feelingly of his regard for Mr and Mrs Church having worked for them for 25 years and hoped to do so for a further 25".
The death of Mr Golden Fairhead was reported in October. A highly respected farmer well known throughout the county he had lived at Birch Holt since 1851 and had never farmed much less than 1000 acres. He had been an Alderman and served on Essex County Council for Stanway for a number of years.
The entries in Kelly's Directory of Essex for 1902 confirms the predominance of farming in the area. Birch school was also used by Layer Breton children and the total attendance was 170. In addition there was a Club and Reading Room, six shopkeepers and one publican plus several tradesmen. Local carriers were essential tradesmen and each village had at least one. Layer Breton had a baker (Smith) opposite the Hare and Hounds while the publican at the White Horse, Layer Marney, Mrs Everitt is shown as a wheelwright. The local baker there was Wadley at Newbridge. The Standard also carried a report of a serious accident which occurred at the White Horse on Bonfire Night when the landlord, Wm. Everitt, was severely burned on the face and head due to an explosion. No further details have been found but as Mrs Everitt is shown as the licensee within a few months the accident may have proved fatal.
One item of news which attracted attention for some weeks during 1901 serves to illustrate the contrast with 2001. There was a murder in Colchester in 1893 which was recalled in 1901 when the Borough Police were asked to send witnesses to New Zealand. Apparently the authorities there arrested a man suspected of being the person sought by Colchester Police in connection with the murder. The man, either Blatch or Lillywhite, was held in custody until the officers arrived. They then interviewed him but were unable to say for certain if he was the right man. The suspect was then brought before a court and further uncertainty was expressed. In the lunch break a barber was employed to cut his hair and a photographer asked to assist in the identification! After that both witnesses agreed as to the identity and despite further action in a higher court the suspect was bound over for return to face an English Court. Reports continued to be published following the progress of the trio back to Colchester where the suspect was eventually brought before the Bow Street magistrates who found that he was not the right man anyway! This was the way with justice before the days of fingerprints, faxes and the Internet! No mention has been found of the amount of damages paid but it is known that the released man almost immediately went on a lecture tour. Also nothing is known of what happened to the two officers one of whom was said to have been an employer of the suspect who was well known to him.