EJ Rudsdale on Twitter from 3 September 2019

29th February 1940

Went off this afternoon to London to meet none other than dear little Mary Tovell, [formerly the bookshop assistant at the Colchester Castle] on her return from Cornwall to take up nursing at Erith in Kent.

We had tea at the station, one of the few stations in London where the tea does not taste like paraffin, and had a good talk, her father had at last let her become a probationer nurse, how dull Cornwall was for a girl like her, how Truro Museum was shutting up entirely on account of the war, though why it is impossible to say. Then she told me how the manager of the firm building militia camps [in Cornwall] had decamped with about £300 of the firm’s money, and how he had been caught, and turned out to be a man wanted by the police for some years.

I saw her off to Erith at 8.15, with promises to see her again.

This extract is published today as there is no corresponding leap year in 2010.

22nd February 1940

I got the mail-phaeton brought in [to the Castle] today. Young Smith of Boxted towed it in behind his cart. The Museum accept it as a loan, and Hull agreed in a burst of generosity, to allow the cost of cartage out of the petty cash. I put it in the Main Hall straight away, and with the hood up it certainly looks very well.

For more information on the acquisition of the mail-phaeton, see Eric's previous diary entries on 1st February 1940 and 8th February 1940.

Barrage Balloons and Wartime Rumours

Eric was keen to record the spread of wartime rumours amongst local people, which arose in part because of the news blackout. The following notes, found amongst his 1940 papers, record a barrage balloon incident in Colchester:

One Wednesday afternoon in November 1939, a barrage balloon, partly deflated, came drifting over Colchester. I went up onto the roof of the Castle with a pair of glasses, and watched its progress across the southern part of the town. Two RAF planes were circling round it, but once it was clear of the town they turned and went west.

The balloon went on towards the east, and as it went over a line of high-tension wires there was a bright flash, so no doubt the trailing cables had touched them. I watched until the balloon became obscured in the gathering dusk, and finally vanished over the horizon some 6 or 7 miles away.

Within two hours I was told by a lady that as the balloon was actually over Colchester RAF planes machine-gunned it, and the bullets were picked up in Maldon Road; by 6 o’clock that evening persons in a bus going to Fingringhoe were heard to say that the balloon had been brought down in Wivenhoe Park, just over the river from Colchester, and that evening there were persons in the pubs of Wivenhoe and other villages nearby showing pieces of the actual balloon fabric, which they themselves had taken.

All these tales were told to me with great solemnity, in spite of the fact that I myself had seen the balloon drift out of sight far away from the town.

The Centenary of E J Rudsdale's Birth: 14th February 2010

Today marks the centenary of Eric Rudsdale's birth on 14th February 1910. He was born in the New Town district of Colchester in a house overlooking the Recreation Ground.

To celebrate Eric's centenary some photographs from his journals are included below, recording different stages of his life. The entry from Eric's journal on the occasion of his 30th birthday in 1940, is given in the blog that follows this one.

Eric at the age of 4 in 1914, complete with obligatory sailor suit and a very nice teddy bear! (Photograph courtesy of Essex Record Office)

Eric in the grounds of Colchester Castle Park, c1930, shortly after he had begun work at Colchester Castle Museum (Photograph courtesy of Essex Record Office)

Eric on the excavation site for the Culver Street Library in Colchester in 1938, pointing out the intersection of the remains of two Roman Roads (Photograph courtesy of Essex Record Office)

This photograph of Eric taken at Wisbech Museum shortly before his death in 1951, has recently been supplied by Eric's family. The source of the photograph is currently unknown and I would be grateful if anyone could enlighten me. It is possibly from a Cambridgeshire archaeological publication. CP

14th February 1940

My 30th Birthday. A year ago how depressed I felt at the prospect of becoming middle-aged. Now how cheerful I feel at the idea that I am now in a more senior age-group, and much more likely to be in a “reserved” job. Went down to Rose’s tonight and had a specially nice supper for my birthday and she gave me a lot of chocolates and a fountain pen, a thing I have wanted for years.

By February 1940 conscription had largely been confined to men up to the age of 27 and as Eric remained in a reserved job owing to his position as a local government official he was less likely to be called up at this stage. For more information on Eric's attitude towards conscription, see his previous diary entry for 31st December 1939.

13th February 1940

Another very heavy fall of snow this morning, quite 9” and a frost. Roads quite impassable again. I have to take hay down to Bourne Mill using pack-pony.

12th February 1940

All pipes frozen in the Castle again. Vaughan finished the old house today, and I think it can be clearly said that he has made a very good job of it. It looks very well in the Castle, and is quite the most impressive thing we have ever had.

The weather is simply terrible again. If this keeps on, snow, and a bitter wind, I feel I shall become seriously ill. It is now impossible to get any coke, so it is even worse than need be in the Castle. Coal is short, but we can still get enough at home.

The old timber framed house from Culver Street as it used to stand in Colchester Castle Museum.  It was removed when the Castle Museum was refurbished in 2013 and the timbers are in storage. For more information on Eric's rescue of the remains of this house and its reconstruction in the Castle see his previous diary entries on 9th November 1939, 2nd January 1940 and 19th January 1940.

10th February 1940

Freeze up again.

Tonight I went down to Bourne Mill about 6 o’clock. It was very dark, but many searchlights were out, and almost as soon as I got there Anti-Aircraft guns began firing over in the direction of Mersea. I could neither see nor hear any planes, but the firing kept up for nearly an hour. You could see the double flashes of gun and shell, and then hear the double, coughing explosion.

A good many people were walking about at the time, but seemed quite unperturbed by it. No alarms were sounded, and when I got back up town the place was full of people. No sign of any “yellow” warning being given to the ARP people, but I stood by at the Castle until about half past 8, and moved on several cars which tried to obstruct the gates.

Eric's friend, Hervey Benham, records in his account, 'Essex at War' (p20), that German aircraft were laying magnetic mines off the coast of Essex during these early months of the war and this may have been the cause of the anti-aircraft defences being fired from Mersea Island on this occasion.

A yellow ARP warning was a preliminary and confidential warning issued to ARP, police and fire services ahead of a full-scale air-raid warning. The yellow warning was issued when enemy planes were within 15 minutes flying time of a District's boundaries. Despite the lack of warning, Eric was still undertaking his duties as a Special Constable in case of the need to open the air raid shelters at Colchester Castle.

8th February 1940

Went over to the Kelso sale this p.m. Most of the carriages went for scrap. The mail-phaeton made 35/-, [shillings] and I bought it from the scrap dealer for 50/- after the sale, to prevent him destroying it. Now my problem is how to get it home, as it is too big for Bob.

However, I’m glad I’ve got it, and who knows? I might drive it one day.

There is still heavy snow in the country, although the weather is warmer.

For further information about the Kelso auction sale, see Eric's previous diary entry on 1st February 1940.

7th February 1940

Went up to London today to Royal Archaeological Institute meeting to hear Stuart Piggott talk on Stonehenge and similar monuments. He wore his own clothes, although he is a private in the Territorials, and is strictly forbidden to appear without his uniform. Peggy Piggott told me he was very depressed. So we see England's leading palaeontologist acting as office boy to an Anti-Aircraft Battery, which is about what one would expect in England. He gave us a most amusing paper, suggesting that some of these stone monuments were originally covered over with gigantic roofs, similar to certain monuments of the Missouri Indians. These ideas seem to presuppose much greater architectural abilities in the Bronze Age than we had hitherto imagined.

However, it was a most enjoyable paper, and was much appreciated.

The R. Arch: Inst. Council now have tea before the Council meeting, with sugar almost ad lib - from great bowls of it, so I took a few away with me to use in a café, where you only get 3 lumps!

Peggy Piggott was an archaeologist who was then married to Stuart Piggott. Stuart Piggott had undertaken archaeological excavations with Rudsdale in the 1930s. Later in the war Piggott became an air photo interpreter and was posted to India.

5th February 1940

Thawing hard now. Castle still without any form of heat other than an oil stove.

Eric Rudsdale and John Constable's 'The Cornfield'

Eric Rudsdale's diary may provide clues to a location that inspired John Constable's famous painting of 'The Cornfield' which is in the National Gallery. 

In 1944 Eric was undertaking Royal Observer Corps duty at an observation post at Great Horkesley in Essex, which looked out over the River Stour Valley to Stoke by Nayland Church - a favourite subject of Constable’s. Rudsdale wrote in his diary on 2nd September 1944 that during his observation duties: 

Just occurred to me that the view due north from the post, to Stoke by Nayland, is almost the same as Constable’s view in the painting in the National Gallery [‘The Cornfield’]. He must have sat in the fields somewhere below the post.

An investigation of the site that Eric describes bears some striking similarities to Constable’s painting. There is a stream on the left of the view from which the boy in the painting quenches his thirst. The River Stour weaves its way along the bottom of the valley in both the view today and in Constable’s painting. The church in the centre of the painting was repositioned by Constable in his final painting but his preparatory works for ‘The Cornfield’ show Stoke by Nayland Church on the horizon where it can still be glimpsed today, see 'A Cornfield' in the Tate Gallery. 

View of the River Stour Valley today, as identified by Eric Rudsdale as a possible location for Constable's 'The Cornfield' (1826). Photograph by M. Lees / Essex County Council.

Rudsdale was very familiar with Constable’s works and went on to discover and identify thirteen Constable sketches of Colchester in the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of which was a rare depiction of the remains of Colchester’s Roman East Gate.


The actual location of 'The Cornfield' has always been a matter of some debate. A letter that appeared in 'The Daily Telegraph' on this subject on 30th January 2010 prompted me to write about Rudsdale's discovery of a possible site for this painting (see 2nd February 2010 ), and further information appeared on 3rd February 2010. CP

1st February 1940

Today, in spite of snow, I and Poulter [Curator of Hollytrees Museum] went in Waller’s car to see the Kelso sale at Red Park, Gt. Horkesley. For many years I have known of the existence of fine carriages and harness there, but have never been able to see them.

Even after all this time, the roads round Horkesley and Nayland are incredible sights, great drifts 8 and 9 feet deep by the hedges. Waller had no skid-chains on his wheels, and we had several awkward moments when going up hills.

The Red Park looked lovely, under the even blanket of snow, with just that air of decay and neglect that almost all estates have in Essex, particularly when they have been in the hands of a very old person.

The carriages, which almost all stand in a large coach-house adjoining the stables, are in excellent condition, in fact until the death of old Crane, the coachman, they were kept as if for use, although the sad thing is that when the late Capt. Kelso bought a car about 1912, he never drove a horse again, although the horses were still kept until about the end of the last war.

Naturally, I should like to buy the whole lot, and indeed they ought to be bought and permanently preserved, but this is quite out of the question. However, I am going to try for the mail-phaeton, which is early and in very good order. I should dearly love to drive this, but I fear that will never be.

The stables are good and old fashioned. They are all quite clean, with no sign of their former occupants except the pathetic names still put up over the mangers – “Major”, “Niger”, “Tom”, etc. Long disused stables always look incredibly forlorn, even worse than houses do.

Sketch by E J Rudsdale from his journal, 1st Feb 1940: 'Semi-Mail-Phaeton, Whitlock, London, c.1850' (Courtesy of Essex Record Office)

For more information on the mail-phaeton see Eric's diary entries for 8th February 1940 and 22nd February 1940.