28th February 1941

Nott told me today that yesterday afternoon there had been a strike at Paxman’s over some change in overtime rates. It only lasted an hour and a half. “And do you know”, said N. “they let the – get away with it! Instead of getting the soldiers in to shoot a few of the buggers”.

A most glorious sunset tonight. I was down at Bourne Mill and saw the sun, a pure golden orb, sinking down behind the hill, colouring the sky with sheets of golden light, so that every tree on the pond’s margin showed its bare branches like black lace against a gold brocade cloth. The water of the pond turned golden too, streaked with dark lines where the ripples moved the surface. And all the air was still, no traffic on the road, no clamour of tanks, but the faint lowing of a cow down the valley at Cannock Mill, and the sound of a horse trotting along Old Heath Road.

Weather extraordinarily warm for the time of year.

27th February 1941

Paid in a cheque today, and asked about the state of my accounts. I have on deposit: £200-19-10; in my current account: £13-8-5; at home in silver, (for an emergency): £20; in my pocket book: £5-10-0; making in all a total of £239-18-3. Besides this I have about £70 in superannuation money, which I can draw out if I leave the Museum. All quite satisfactory.

25th February 1941

I hear a good deal of damage was done at Harwich. 9 people were killed, 6 of them through standing in the street to watch the attack. Without doubt many people are killed now that raids are made in earnest because they refuse to take shelter at all. Early last year, when there were no raids, everyone scuttled underground each time the sirens blew.

Alarm tonight at 7.30, when it again seemed that Harwich was being bombed. It is curious that one heard no noise, but only saw flashes. It seems very terrible to stand here and watch people being done to death less than 25 miles away. Is this the beginning of an invasion?

24th February 1941: Air Raid on Harwich

Alarm at half past 9 tonight. Apparently an attack was being made on Harwich. From the Castle I could see gunflashes, bomb flashes, flares and searchlights. Very few planes came near the town, only one or two going over the N.E. side. All clear about midnight.

23rd February 1941

Went over to Dedham this afternoon, to the Belfields'. Took the pony out. She went very well, and looked really charming. Penelope [Belfield], wearing a green, long coat and a green turban, was most vivacious and lively. She drives quite well already. We went down to Dedham Street, and I called at Sisson’s, where he told me he had just been appointed in charge of bomb damage on historical buildings. We had a short discussion on this, and then I went back to Belfield’s to tea. Had a very pleasant time, but had to rush back to Colchester by 8 o’clock, to relieve Chapman at the Castle, as this is the [fire] watcher’s night off. I don’t intend to do this every Sunday.

The architect, Marshall Sisson, was working closely with the newly formed National Buildings Record, which had been appointed in 1941 to compile 'a full graphic, photographic, and other records of buildings of merit, whatever their date, which have been damaged or are in danger of damage by warfare.'

The resulting survey, amassed by the National Buildings Record, now forms part of the National Monuments Record maintained by English Heritage and is open to the public.

22nd February 1941

Hull and Poulter to Purfleet this afternoon in Blackmore’s car (Corporation petrol!) and looked over no less than 95 bales from Colchester but could not find any trace of coins nor indeed any paper from Laver’s house at all. I had to take fire duty at Holly Trees from 6-8, until the watchman came. Poulter arrived back 8.30. Said hardly any damage seen between here and Purfleet except some houses at Brentwood and Woolworth’s shop there. Doubtful testimony, as he is notoriously unobservant. Says damage very slight at Purfleet.

Beautiful fine day, much warmer than of late.

21st February 1941

Alarm at 4.30 this morning, until 7am. I opened the park. Bitterly cold, and a little snow falling, but between then and 8 o’clock there was a very heavy fall, quite 6” in the Park. I was amazed to see it.

Trunk calls to and from Purfleet today about waste paper from Laver’s. All Colchester bales are now being held until inspected, but Hull has by now lost all interest.

20th February 1941

Raid alarm this morning. A German plane was chased over the town twice, by RAF planes, machine guns going like mad. Capt. Round and several other people were in the office at the time, and we saw the Germans rush across and dive into a cloud. Nobody took any notice, except to glance up, much as I should have liked to have taken cover.

Molly Blomfield came in during the alarm, looking particularly charming in a green cloak and hood, with a scarlet lining. I showed her the Wire “Morants”.

Poulter told me today that not only had Mrs. Lyon-Campbell thrown away a great amount of Laver’s papers out of his desk, but she had also thrown away 38 gold Ancient British coins, which the servant had saved from the rubbish heap. Great excitement, trying to trace where the wastepaper goes to. Apparently it is baled and sent to Purfleet, so I fear there is little hope. Poor Laver, I wonder if he can see what she is doing.

19th February 1941

Had the afternoon off, and Penelope Belfield came over for the pony. It went awfully well and she drove most of the way. It shies at paper, but takes no notice whatever of traffic, nor even of giant excavators, which are digging more tank traps at Ardleigh, all by the railway, and incidently doing immense damage to growing crops.

Had tea at the Belfields' and got a lift home in a car, as the bus did not come for some reason. A very pleasant outing which I much enjoyed.

Beautiful spring day.

18th February 1941

Museum Committee today. Hull reported “his” scheme for fire-watching. Revds Benton and Bailey came in this afternoon, talking about the [Essex Archaeological Society] library and how to bring the books back from Mersea. It appears that Rehberger has sent in a bill for £22 for storing them, which certainly seems a bit steep.

17th February 1941: Bomb Damage at Braintree

Committee at Birch Hall today. Very wet all day, and Birch Hall terribly cold and draughty. We sat from a quarter to 2 until half past 5. Cooper Bland said that during the alarm yesterday a single plane bombed Ripper’s timber yard at Sible Hedingham, for some extraordinary reason, and did quite a lot of damage.

More serious, at Braintree on Saturday night bombs fell right in the heart of the town. Lloyd’s Bank, on the corner of Bank Street, received a direct hit and was demolished, as was a garage in Coggeshall Road, while houses, shops, and the County School in Coggeshall Road were seriously damaged. In all this only three people were killed, a man and a girl in the street, and a little boy in bed, and 17 hurt, but not very seriously. This means that out of a population of about 7,500 at least 45 people have been raid casualties, and several dozen buildings seriously damaged. When I was there just a year ago I remember saying to Peggy Mens that shelters (they had none then) were not likely to be of much use in Braintree, and she remarked that Braintree was the first place in Essex where people were killed in raids in the last war. Now they have had two mines and these huge bombs.

Saw Hampshire tonight, and he agreed to let the pony, trap and harness go [to Penelope Belfield] for £12.12.0, which I think is very reasonable. Beautiful fine, starlight night but no raid. Manoeuvres to the S.W. and at 11 o’clock someone opened up with a heavy gun. The flashes illuminated the whole town, and the explosions shook windows, I wondered if my poor old people were listening to it in alarm.

16th February 1941

Penelope Belfield came over this afternoon to see Hampshire’s little grey pony. Just after she arrived a plane flew over, a Jerry it seems, and the sirens blew. Paxman’s men all knocked off and went into shelters, but she seemed quite unalarmed, so we took the pony out for a run. I was just harnessing it when the sirens blew, and the poor little beast plunged wildly. We had a run down to Bourne Mill, and she drove back, and was much taken with the whole outfit. I hope she buys it.

The alarm did not last long, and I went on to Rose’s for tea, and to Seymour’s this evening. Fine day, but cloudy and cool. Much invasion talk in the papers all this last week.

13th February 1941

Took an hour and a half off this morning, and went down to Mersea with the Parringtons, to get a chaff cutter from Grubb’s place. The whole proceeding was rather risky, as Folkard and three of the Committee had left for Peldon just previously, and I feared we might bump into them along the road.

At Blackheath I was surprised to see a battery of horse artillery, also about thirty pack-horses from a mountain battery. When all those artillery horses were sold in 1936-7 I never thought I should see any more in Colchester.

Much military activity at Mersea – putting up ‘phone wires, despatch riders, etc. rushing madly about. Got the chaff cutter onto the trailer quite easily. Poor Grubb’s stables look very forlorn. The grass grows high and rank in the yard. The last time I was there was the Sunday before the war began.

Got back to Colchester, calling at Rehberger’s house on the way, ascertaining that the Essex Archaeological Society books are there alright, locked in the stables. The house is a military Headquarters now. No one in the office knew where I had been.

12th February 1941: Winifred Holtby

Quiet day. Full moon tonight, but no planes, so I suppose London had a quiet night, thank God. I saw Jack Geernaert [a schoolfriend of EJR's] outside his [family's] shop this morning, mending the blind, which was broken by an Australian lorry some weeks ago. He was wearing civilian clothes, and looked very well. He apparently has 7 days leave every 6 months, because it was the same day I went to bring the parents back from Maidenhead that he was going back last August. I believe he also has a weekend every now and then, so he does not do too badly. His job is entirely sedentary, and would quite suit me.

Tonight reading Vera Brittain’s biography of Winifred Holtby. Most interesting. W.H. must have been very nice. I wish I had met her. Was “South Riding” really a masterpiece? Its indictment against local government was not brilliant, I thought. It could have been done better than that. Still, it must have “got home” as NALGO made a most violent protest. At the time I thought the film which was made was really better than the original book.

I did not know that W.H. died of the results of high blood pressure. I too suffer from this, and I know something of the pain it can give, especially in the legs and head. All my limbs have an extraordinary tendency to “go to sleep”, particularly when in bed. The restoration of circulation is most painful.

Rather cloudy tonight. A few planes over.

Winifred Holtby (1898-1935) was a writer, political activist and social campaigner. Her novel 'South Riding' was published posthumously in 1936 and her friend, Vera Brittain, published her biography, entitled 'Testament of Friendship', in 1940. A television adaptation of 'South Riding' is currently being screened on the BBC.

10th February 1941

Terrible train smash at Brentwood at about half past 10 this morning. A Southend train crashed into the back of a Norwich express in the cutting at Brook Street, killing 6 and injuring 20, one of whom is a young woman from Canterbury Road [in Colchester].

Beautiful day, quite warm and sunny, like spring. It is now light in the evening until about 6.45pm. Quiet day and quiet evening, until a quarter to 9, when there was an alarm. The moon was brilliant, and I saw strange flares in the sky in the direction of W. Bergholt or Wormingford. They appeared in pairs, and hung about motionless for some minutes, then gently drifted away on the wind. After a time, when so many had come in the same place, it dawned on me that they must be Verey lights being fired up, not flares being dropped from an apparently motionless plane. All clear about midnight.

9th February 1941

Spent most of the day going over the Doctor’s papers. The amount of material in the Wire “Morants” is simply staggering. The man’s knowledge and application was simply wonderful, and remains unbeaten after a century.

So busy all day had no tea, and was caught by another alarm at 7.30pm before I could get any. Lucky I had some food in. The Premier spoke on the radio at 9, but I don't know what he said, apparently not threatening any ‘immediate invasion’.

EJR refers to William Wire's own annotated copies of Philip Morant's 'The History and Antiquities of Colchester' (1748) and 'The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex' (1763-1768).

8th February 1941

On 8th February 1941, EJR visited Dr Laver's sister to collect books from Dr Laver's Library that belonged to Colchester Castle Museum and he successfully retrieved William Wire's Diary. Further details on this are available in E.J. Rudsdale's book.

We came away heavily laden, and with an invitation to go there again next week to search for other things. I believe that Mrs Lyon-Campbell and her friend Miss Raven will really do their best. When I got back Hull was unfortunately in, and I had trouble to get the stuff in. H. immediately “took charge”!

This afternoon Maura Benham came to tea in Parnell’s Cell. We had a good time, and I really believe she enjoyed herself. She was looking remarkably well, and had apparently been having a quiet time in Paddington lately, no bombs at all.

Lovely night, though cloudy. Slight rain. Much warmer.

7th February 1941 - Chelmsford in Wartime

Went to Chelmsford today with Capt. Folkard. First time I have been there by road since the war began. The new road works between Marks Tey and Kelvedon are still unfinished, but there did not seem to be any men working on them. It seems odd not to complete the road, as I should have imagined it would be useful for military purposes.

Chelmsford looks just the same. Big crowds about the streets, the market stalls have now been taken away from the site by the County Hall, and put in a muddy yard at the back of the “Bell” (which Chelmsford Corporation now owns) except for a few which still remain next to the Cattle Market, opposite Brittain & Pash. There was a horse sale on, in fact that was the only part of the market that looked very busy – the cattle pens were very empty. There were about 100 horses including a bunch of 40 cobs, alleged to be from Meredith & Drew, London [The firm of Meredith & Drew was a biscuit manufacturer]. They were certainly not, not being up to M & D standard. Some were quite good, there was a grey I would have liked very much, made 30 gns. As far as I could see most of them made a good clearance, although some appeared to be bought in by a man called Fisher from Ipswich.

Fisher and a rough looking gipsy man seemed to be in charge of these cobs, and they were certainly not M& Ds, whose turnouts I know well. As a matter of fact, I don't believe any of these animals had worked all winter. They all had their hind shoes off, thick winter coats, no clipping, except that their manes had recently been taken off, and had no sign of harness marks. They were all rather thin. Most of them made 14-20 gns, although they were old. Some made 20 and a half, 22, 25, 27 gns. I would have liked the grey and one or two others.

The sale yard was full, and full of mud and water too. There were the same gyppos and dealers you always see at Chelmsford. I saw both Sol and Joe Porter, and two of their boys, who seem to have kept out of the army so far. In fact, there were a remarkable number of men under 35 wandering about. As usual, nobody carries a gas-mask, although I had mine in my bag, and I did see one man carrying a plough-bridle had one. The people in Chelmsford's streets don't carry them either. There were several unbroken 3 year-olds, property of Col: Somebody “now on active service” (“he damn well isn’t!" called a voice when this was announced.) They made 3, 5 and 8 gns. They were a weedy looking lot. An unbroken half-bred Suffolk mare, 4 yr old, made 33 gns. One of two cart horses made 45 gns. The demand seemed pretty good. There was a lovely Landau van for sale, and a little trolley which I would have liked, but could not stop to see them sold.

Mrs May was there, from Tiptree Priory. She had driven a cob as far as Witham and put up there, and was lamenting what a poor sale there was for small ponies and traps. Apparently she has had a great deal more success with the Maldon War Agricultural Committee than she would with ours, as they have agreed that pony breeding is her business and will let her alone. This is great good luck for her.

At 3 had to go to the County Hall to see the Accountant about various matters. Had a long interview. He is very dissatisfied with the way in which Nott keeps our wages record [at the War Agricultural Committee], and insists that our method must be improved. The County Hall is full of dashing young damsels and the Accountants Office has men clerks in Home Guard uniforms. There are also two Home Guards on the front door, questioning callers. I went along to see Emmison, the [Essex Record Office] archivist, who is now doing Public Assistance work. No doubt he hopes this will keep him “reserved” – he is only about 33 I believe. He still does a certain amount of work in his own department, and told me he had actually been able to get a new man on the staff, an assistant archivist from Exeter, I believe he said.

Train at 4.58, not very crowded. Just time to get a cup of inferior tea in a most depressing refreshment room before it came in. All the way home I thought of the bombing of the Yarmouth train [near Colchester on 18th January 1941]. At Chitt’s Hill I saw the bomb-holes, in the field W. of the road and in the road. They were not very big, but they made me feel depressed and nervous.

Went back to the office and finished off some letters. Had tea at Jacklins. Fed Bob and the donkey in the moonlight.

6th February 1941

An incredible piece of luck today. A phone message from Craske, the auctioneer revealed that Craske was now putting in a valuation of Dr. Laver's estate. When Poulter explained the position about William Wire's “Diary” and other stuff, Craske came down at once, and we had a long interview. By another incredible stroke of luck Hull was out. Craske was most helpful, and the upshot is that he arranged for me to go to the house with him on Saturday morning to see Mrs Lyon-Campbell, who will then let me find [William Wire's] “Diary”.

Poulter explained everything, and Craske admitted in confidence that there was another will, made in favour of the Museum and the [Essex Archaeological] Society, but that some while ago Laver was somehow persuaded into making a new will in favour of his sister, who in return agreed to leave everything to him should she die first. Poor old Laver seems to have been quite sure that she would be the first to go, being 4 years older than he. What a tragic mistake.

Last night there were two alarms, the last until midnight, when it began to snow, and continued all night with great violence, so that this morning there was almost 2 feet in parts. I saw such a pretty girl going by Bourne Road this afternoon, wearing a bright green coat with a fur-lined hood. She looked beautiful against the snow. Early this morning I saw five of Moy’s carts, one behind the other, moving silently along Magdalene Street towards the coalyards, gradually fading into shapes in the mist.

Tonight trusted there would be no alarm, so went to the Hippodrome to see “Our Town”, a film made in an entirely new way, which I much enjoyed. Bright moonlight, and a few planes across.

4th February 1941

Very busy on Committee business from yesterday.

Rang Benton today, to ask for news about the Doctor’s papers. Benton in bed with flu, but Mrs. B. told me they had seen Mrs Lyon-Campbell [Dr Laver's sister], and that everything was left to her – all the books, pictures, notes, everything! As to William Wire’s “Diary”, Mrs Lyon-Campbell knew nothing of it. [Dr Laver had borrowed William Wire's diary from the Museum's collections before his death]. She proposes to shut up the house and go back to Devonshire at once. What an awful tragedy. The results of nearly a century of archaeological research in Colchester in the hands of a woman who has not the slightest regard for them or for her brother’s work.

I rang Cr. Sam Blomfield, and begged him to see Marshall the lawyer again, which he promised although not holding much hope. Benton is apparently prostrated by the news that the [Essex Archaeological] Society gets nothing, and does not intend to take any further action. Wire’s “Diary” is abandoned to its fate.

William Wire was a 19th century antiquarian who kept a diary of archaeological finds in Colchester from 1842-1857. EJR's decision to keep a journal had been influenced by his knowledge of Wire's diary.

3rd February 1941

[Essex War Agricultural] Committee meeting at Birch Hall this afternoon, which started at a quarter to 2 and went on till 5.30.

The inner hall is hung with portraits all round and up the stairs, and on one wall, near the main door, hangs a 17th century helmet alleged to have belonged to Sir Charles Lucas. I mentioned this to Capt. Round, and he told me that he removed it from the Castle when the place was sold. Therefore the lobster-tail helmet which we have in the Museum is not the traditional one, but it has been there all my life.

Sir Charles Lucas led a Royalist rebellion against the Parliamentarian forces in 1648 but became trapped in Colchester by General Fairfax's forces and was forced to surrender after the town was besieged. Lucas, and his fellow Royalist Commander, Sir George Lisle, were subsequently executed at the rear of Colchester Castle for their role in the rebellion. The place of execution is now marked by an obelisk.

The Round family of Birch Hall had also owned Colchester Castle from 1782 until they sold it to the Colchester Borough Corporation in 1920 as a war memorial.

2nd February 1941

Good old Hampshire carted my hay down to the mill for me, for which I was very grateful. Spent an hour clearing the stream, and felt completely done up and exhausted.

To Rose’s for tea, and this evening to Seymour’s. Thank God no alarm, so I had a free evening. Jeffrey Saunders was there. Still very busy at his office in Cockspur Street, which is undamaged, and although he registered last June as 28, when he put his name down for the Navy, he has never heard a word since.

1st February 1941

Too busy to go to the Market today, although I wanted to see if there were any horses. Rheumatism in my legs very bad. Cold and wet weather, but Parnell’s cell is really quite warm and cosy. Can't understand it.