PUBLISHED: 12:13 12 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:02 20 February 2013
From establishing Roman origins to reuniting families, the Writtle Archives group is having a big impact on the village's past and present, says Jo Jarvis
A Writtle record
ONCE the largest parish in the county, Writtle has a proud heritage and thanks to a dedicated group of women with a passion for the place where they live, that history is unlikely to be forgotten by future generations.
Unearthing details of Writtles places, people and special occasions from times gone by is all part of a days work for members of Writtle Archives.
The group, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, was established after Writtle Parish Council appealed for volunteers to start a collection of photographs in the village. Two decades later Writtle Archives continue to collate records of the village thanks to the tireless work of Pam Jay, Mavis Awcock, Mary Roberts and local historian Wendy Hibbitt
By collecting old photographs, maps, newspaper cuttings and snippets from church and parish magazines, the group traces the truths of Writtles past as well as creating a detailed record of the village as it is today. The groups work is highly valued in the village and many local residents write to Writtle Archives asking for help with researching the history of their house or tracing their ancestors.
Wendy, who has lived in the village for more than 40 years, explains: I get a lot of enjoyment from meeting and helping people and we have had lots of letters from as far away as Canada and New Zealand. In one case we managed to make contact between two cousins who hadnt seen each other for many years. It is a very worthwhile job to find out about peoples families, their occupations and where they lived.
Writtle Archives has also carried out monumental inscriptions and one of its first projects was the recording of all the gravestones in the old and new churchyards at the Church of All Saints, which was closed to burials in 1877.
Wendy adds: My own experiences covered mainly the old part of the churchyard and on many afternoons a friend and I strode into the churchyard with spades, a wheelbarrow, buckets of water and scrubbing brushes to unearth Writtles history. We got peculiar looks from some people who hurried on their way trying not to look too closely, but others overcame their curiosity and came to talk to us, often helping us by deciphering the faint lettering on some of the more exposed stones. The oldest stones uncovered were a group dating back to 1707, in memory to a Mr Hugh Petchey from West Hanningfield, his wife and son.
All the gravestones have since been entered on to a computer and arranged in alphabetical order. Other memorials from the United Reformed Church, war memorial and on seats and trees around the village have also been recorded. One of Writtle Archives most important collections is copies of the parish magazine dating back to 1886 which provide an incredible insight into village life down the centuries.
Wendy continues: From these magazines we realise the importance of agriculture in the village because the school holidays were arranged around the farming year and poverty in the village was shown by a number of charities providing help. For example, the Boot and Shoe Club saw children take a penny a week to school so that at the end of the year they could buy new boots to keep their feet dry.
Writtle Archives has also been involved with the Essex Place Name survey and helped with the historical input for the Writtle Village Design Statement. As a result, it has obtained a grant to produce a Childrens Heritage Trail around the village green, a copy of which has been given to all primary school children in the village. The group has also written two books, Writtle Pubs and Inns (2001) and Open All Hours Writtle Shops (2006).
Running an archive is a never-ending project, says Wendy. New information is gleaned from the newspapers every week and we receive enquiries about Writtle families which have to be researched, but it is very rewarding and well worth all the effort and time involved.
And so what plans does Writtle Archives have for recording its own special anniversary? To celebrate its 20th anniversary it is planning a Family History Day on June 12 when it will be inviting people to see its extensive photographic collection and browse its transcriptions, pointing them in the right direction to trace their own family tree, even if their families dont come from Writtle. Writtle Archives will also be launching a new book about childhood and schools in the village on October 16 with an exhibition of school memorabilia.
In the Parish Plan, which is to be published shortly, 90% of villages acknowledged the importance of Writtle Archives, so this historical society seems to have a bright future.
With help and encouragement from the parish council, Writtle Archives will continue to act as a collection point for village history
for many years to come, acknowledges Wendy.
Writtle is one of the prettiest villages in the county with many Grade I listed houses. It dates back to the Romans who were present in the village shortly after the Roman conquest and two Roman burial urns were found buried in the gardens of the old vicarage.
Writtle was a royal manor and was mentioned in the Domesday Book when its population was about 900 making it bigger than Chelmsford at the time. The manor was situated on the main route between London and East Anglia and part of this route can be seen at Lawford Lane, which is now a bridle path.
King John is one of the most famous people to be associated with Writtle. He built a hunting lodge in the village in 1211, which is now situated within the grounds of Writtle College. It is also believed that Robert the Bruce, who was once the King of Scotland, was born in the village on July 11, 1274.
Today, little remians of Writtles royal connections, but it is only a matter of time before more of the villages past is discovered with Iron Age, Bronze Age and Roman ruins currently being dug up by amateur archaeologists.
More from the archives
Writtle Archives is open every Thursday from 2pm to 5pm in the Christian Centre for family and local history research. For more information,
email Wendy Hibbitt
To contact Writtle Parish Council
call 01245 420066 or visit www.writtlepc.co.uk
Writtle is believed to have been named by the Celts combining rhyd meaning ford and dol meaning valley to give Rhyddol. However, some historians think the name is Anglo-Saxon, Writolaburna meaning bubbling, purling stream
In the centre of the village there is a war memorial by the pond, which was erected in 1920 to commemorate the 54 dead from the village in both wars
The Writtle village sign was erected in 1980 to celebrate the Queens Silver Jubilee
The Christian Centre in Church Lane, which was converted in the 1960s, used to house the old girls and infants school built in about 1820