|The Villages in 1910
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - November 2010
In 2010 if one wishes to know how to get to a destination you either look at a map or set your satnav and follow the route fed to you. One hundred years ago people could use, the relatively new, Ordnance Survey maps and similar strip maps showing features on your route and further information could be found in the relevant County directory.
The Kelly's Essex directory for 1910 has it that Layer Breton was a parish, 5 miles south-east from Mark's Tey station, on the main line of the Great Eastern railway, 6 miles south-west from Colchester, 11 miles east from Witham and 7 east from Kelevedon, in the North Eastern Division of the County, Winstree hundred, Lexden and Winstree petty sessional division and union, Colchester county court district, Coggeshall and Tey rural deanery, Colchester archdeaconry and St Albans diocese.
A fair amount of information about the parish was followed by a brief history. The names of traders were included plus details of a few of the main private residents. The church was disused (no mention of the temporary use of a barn) but there was a Congregational Chapel on the heath and a Friends Meeting House. The Congregational Chapel had a school "capable of holding 100 scholars". Nothing is said about it being just a Sunday school.
Children from the village attended Birch School which was built to house 225 children but the average attendance was 170. The Admission Register has the names of 24 pupils being admitted that year including four readmitted during the year.
The headmaster, Mr Walsh, had been in post about 5 years and writing of his time at the school some years later he noted that "When I took charge, the school was very different in appearance from what it was when I left". In 1911 additional accommodation was provided due to rising numbers and "signs of modernity were creeping in". As Mr Walsh left to become a School Inspector in 1913 it is fair to assume that he managed such changes very well.
Unfortunately the Inspector's report for 1910 has not survived but entries in the Log Book throw some light on what occurred. School reopened after Christmas on 10th January but 10 days later was closed when it was used for the first of two Parliamentary elections to take place that year. Later in the month attendance was very low due to "much sickness" and "very bad weather". A fairly common state of affairs each winter.
A confirmation service, held in Birch Church on 8th March, was the cause of another closure as was the funeral of King Edward VII on 20th May. The local press reported many Church services in the area and it almost certain that Birch would have marked the occasion in a similar manner. A Choral Festival in June led to closure for the day and the onset of pea picking on June 29th closed the school for the summer. It was common practice, at that time, for the summer break to be agreed with the local farmers so as to enable everyone possible to help with the harvest.
Few pupils are named in the reports but it is interesting to note that the headmaster's son was "specially commended" by the Religious Knowledge Inspector. This might be considered remarkable when the Admission Register shows that he had long absences from school but these are noted as being for private tuition! Both his parents were teachers but whether or not they supervised his tuition is not known.
On September 2nd it was noted that "Miss M S Dash left school today - she leaves for San Francisco on 22nd September". It would be interesting to know if this was taken as an opportunity to tell the pupils something about America. (Miss Dash was a distant cousin we knew little about and so was of great interest to us!).
School closed for Christmas on December 23rd with prize giving by Miss Round and in the audience was Miss C G Luard, Principal of Whitelands Training College. Clearly no time was allowed for Christmas shopping but given an almost certain lack of funds this is hardly surprising.
Reading through the Log Book you cannot help noticing the effect epidemics and bad weather had on attendance. The former spread quickly and resulted in closure by the Medical Officer of Health on occasion - in 1911 measles and scarlet fever were prevalent. The latter was usually due to snow or summer floods. Pupils had to walk to school and would arrive soaked to the skin only to be sent home again. There were no facilities at the school for drying clothes.
The directory gives agriculture as the main source of employment and the main crops are quoted as wheat, beans, oats, barley and the local soil is said to be Layer Breton - loamy, Layer Marney - heavy, and Birch - light.
There were 11 farmers in Birch, 5 in Layer Breton and 4 in Layer Marney. Each village had a blacksmith and a public house. Birch had a Club and Reading Room, a doctor and more traders than the other two villages in total.
During the first decade of the twentieth century there had been a number of committees looking into various aspects of public welfare which resulted in the introduction of pensions and sick pay. In turn this led to more guidance from central government and a strengthening of local government.
From the directories it is possible to identify some of the differences over the last hundred years. The three carriers who served the area have long since disappeared as have the post offices. Mail collection and deliveries were twice a day with one on a Sunday! No mains water meant use of pumps and wells and the recent expansion of gas supplies passed this area by. Much was to change over the next 25 years but one thing few foresaw was that a number of the young lads leaving school around that time would have their names inscribed on local memorials as a result of the First World War - many opposite the school they had attended.