Es­sex His­tory

You are Hear! Sounds of his­tory

Essex Life - - INSIDE -

What does Es­sex sound like? This is what the project You Are Hear: Sound and Sense of Place has been ex­plor­ing over the last three years. This Es­sex Sound and Video Ar­chive (ESVA) project, prin­ci­pally funded by the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund, has digi­tised hun­dreds of hours of ar­chive record­ings, put them on­line, and taken them on the road on lis­ten­ing benches and au­dio-vis­ual kiosks.

Es­sex now has 20 lis­ten­ing benches, each loaded with ESVA record­ings re­lated to their lo­ca­tion, cho­sen by lo­cal her­itage and com­mu­nity groups. Through em­bed­ding these record­ings in the places they re­late to, the ERO team hope to give peo­ple a chance to make con­nec­tions with the past, and a greater un­der­stand­ing of the place around them. One lis­tener had quite a sur­prise when she pressed play on the Chelms­ford bench and one of the speak­ers was her grand­mother, who had passed away some years pre­vi­ously.

Many of the record­ings on the benches are oral his­to­ries, which can give a real sense of what it was like to live in the past. Of­ten peo­ple re­call mem­o­ries from their child­hood. On the Cas­tle Hed­ing­ham bench, Mon­ica Nash de­scribes the lo­cal school be­ing shared with evac­uees dur­ing World War II; the lo­cal chil­dren at­tended school in the morn­ing, and the evac­uees in the af­ter­noon. In Har­wich, mean­while, Joseph Thomas speaks of how he and his friends would sneak in to silent films in the Elec­tric Palace Cinema. They would pool their money for two of the boys to buy tick­ets, who would then let the rest of the boys in through a back door in the gen­tle­men’s toi­lets.

World War II of­ten fea­tures in the mem­o­ries peo­ple share. Eloise War­wick Smith of Burn­ham on Crouch tells how the Women’s Royal Vol­un­tary Ser­vice (WRVS) in the town set up a can­teen for troops in the lo­cal drill hall.

She says: ‘I well re­mem­ber how we all went down and scrubbed and dusted to get it ready. In a very short time it was manned com­pletely for 24 hours a day.’

They also knit­ted socks, and made shirts and cam­ou­flage nets. ‘What a filthy game that was,’ she adds. ‘All work­ing with hes­sian and ropes, we got in such a ter­ri­ble mess.’

A speaker fea­tured on the Southend bench re­calls how in the run up to D-Day the town was full of troops and the Thames was packed with boats.

‘From this beach you couldn’t see Kent at all… we’d never seen a sight like it.’

Many record­ings fea­ture de­tails of daily life, while oth­ers dis­cuss mo­men­tous events. In Har­wich we hear from Bett Calver, who ex­pe­ri­enced the 1953 floods in the town. She de­scribes a, ‘wall of wa­ter. It smashed down right in front of us… A great big wave, huge, huge, I can see it now, I can re­ally see it now… there was kids scream­ing and cry­ing. That broke your blim­min’ heart, that re­ally did.’

You can find out the ex­act lo­ca­tions of the lis­ten­ing benches, and lis­ten to record­ings of Es­sex past and present, at www.es­sex­sounds.org.uk

The af­ter­math of the 1953 Flood in Har­wich, which was wit­nessed by Bett Calver

Res­i­dents en­joy­ing a cup of tea at the launch of the Saf­fron Walden lis­ten­ing bench, in the grounds of the town mu­seum

Trav­el­ling bench at Ra­pael Park

The tour­ing bench out­side Finch­ing­field Guild­hall. Record­ings on the bench when it was lo­cated here in­cluded clips about straw plait­ing, once a sig­nif­i­cant lo­cal in­dus­try

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