TitlePublic Health in our Villages - Centenary Chronicles 56
AbstractPublic Health in our Villages

Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History

Centenary Chronicles - No. 56

Published in Parish News - November 2009

In the last issue mention was made of the reports issued by the Medical Officer of Health (MoH). Layer Marney, in particular, was said to be poorly supplied with water in 1900 but that a source had been found, near The Towers, at a depth of 500 feet. Among the archives at Chelmsford are collections of cuttings from local newspapers over the last two hundred years. One such item throws more light on the problems of water in Layer Marney.

The chairman of the Parish Meeting held in 1913, said that Mr de Zoete had tried to find water at or near the Tower without success, as had also Messrs Daniels at the Lion. Everyone felt the effect of the inadequate supply not least the labourers who, frequently "after a long and hard day's work had to fetch water from 1 or 2 miles away, and that often from a stagnant pond or thick brook." Attention was drawn to the fact that the question had been raised in 1894 and Layer Marney was still waiting!

The MoH, Dr Cook, said that the Lexden and Winstree Rural District Council (RDC) could have water from Maldon RDC and he asked why nothing had been done since 1911 when he had raised the question? A resolution to raise the matter with the RDC was passed unanimously.

Glancing through other items in the collections reveals that many of the "news" items relate to proceedings in the magistrate's courts. A thorough search may reveal that an ancestor was guilty of having an unlicensed gun, being in possession of snares, or other items connected to poaching. Such reports may be of interest to family historians by way of adding colour to the bare branches of a family tree. An obituary and a coroner's report, both from Layer Breton, but with 150 years between them, provide examples.

On 16th February 1781 the Ely Chronicle reported: "A few days since died Mr William Adam, of Layer Breton Hall, a wealthy farmer and one of the people known as Quakers; he was universally esteemed for extensive knowledge of business, for his usefulness to society, and for having held every general virtue that mankind could be supposed to possess".

A few years back we were asked about a tragic accident referred to in the Parish Newsletter. Unfortunately nothing more was found in the local press, at the time, but a cutting is neatly filed in Chelmsford. The report, dated 3rd July 1931, noted that - "Colchester Hospital's limited accommodation was commented upon at an inquest on Monday on Walter Willsmore, 65, agricultural labourer, of the Post Office, Layer Breton, who died as a result of a fall while loading hay.

Dr R S Smith said the hospital authorities did not know where to turn for beds and Willsmore's injuries were not of such a nature that it was imperative he should be admitted. There were an enormous number of patients waiting to be admitted, but they simply could not find room for them. The Coroner returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence".

Another tragedy is covered by an item, dated 1815 - "As Mr Richard Hellen, of Birch in this County, was returning from Chelmsford market on Friday night with his friend, Mr Root of Great Leighs, after stopping a short time at St Ann's Castle in Leighs proceeded towards Mr Root's house (where Mr Hellen intended to have slept that night, and returned home with his daughter who was there, on the next morn). Mr Hellen in passing a pond, which had formerly been a gravel pit, called loudly to his horse to stop; which Mr Root hearing instantly returned; but through the darkness of the night, not finding Mr Hellen went for a light and assistance, which having procured, after an hour's search, found Mr Hellen at the further end of the pond, drowned and his horse and gig in the pond a short distance from him. Mr Hellen has left a wife and 5 young children to lament his untimely end".

The Birch and District Nursing Association

Perhaps Mr Willsmore, above, became a case dealt with by the District Nurse? If so we are not aware of any archive apart from a small book in Chelmsford. We do not know, for certain, when the Association was formed but the only surviving Minute Book of the Birch and District Nursing Association starts from 22nd July 1935. The 1936 AGM minutes, however, record that Mrs Douglas Round resigned after being Secretary and Treasurer for 37 years.

The committee met regularly dealing with administrative and financial matters. In 1936 there were over 500 members in Birch and surrounding villages. Fees were one penny a day and were collected weekly by volunteers. Anxious to improve the service provided the committee decided to buy a second hand car for the use of the nurse. Insurance was paid and the car was serviced by Lawes Garage. However, it was felt that a telephone was not very practicable!

In 1937 Nurse Smith was permitted to use the car for private use at the rate of one penny a mile. In order to improve communications she was required to put details of intended calls on a slate outside her residence. Complaints arose during the winter months when snow made the writing illegible. Having purchased a new car the committee deferred discussion on the need for a garage. Visits were made to members, mainly for maternity cases but also to the elderly when required by the doctor.

An element of "means testing" seems to have been applied insofar as the more well off were to be asked for a donation in addition to the membership fee. The outbreak of war seemed to be discussed along the lines that evacuees might include pregnant ladies but, even so, there was no call to hire another nurse. The only other relevant business arising from this was the use of rationed petrol. Clearly some residents kept an eye on the use of the car and an accusation was made that the nurse had been seen in Maldon in 1944. Investigation, by the committee, completely exonerated the nurse when she was able to provide evidence that, on the day in question, the car was undergoing service in Lawes Garage and she had borrowed a car from them!

Finally, with the introduction of the National Health Service in 1947, the Association was wound up at a Farewell Meeting on 12th October 1948, held in Layer de la Haye Village Hall. The approximate balance of £300 was placed in the hands of Trustees and Nurse Coombes, who had taken over from Nurse Smith in 1939, was presented with a book token and the Secretary Miss Lettice Digby was given an eight day striking clock. The presentations were made by Mrs Watkins who was the eldest member from Layer de la Haye.

The meeting closed with an address entitled "What place is there for the voluntary worker in the Health Services of the future"? by Dr J D Kershaw the MoH for Colchester.

There are no details recorded as to the scope of the address but would that Dr Kershaw could return to give us a resume of his talk in 1948 and review the changes between then and today!

PublishedNovember 2009
SourceMersea Museum / Breton Heath