Participants in the Friends of Essex Churches study day on 7th October enjoyed a programme of interesting talks by Dr Christopher Starr and visited a variety of local churches. The second of the four churches was St Mary the Virgin, Corringham which has Anglo-Saxon stonework, but currently, a distinctly Anglo-Catholic appearance. The third church was St Peter and St Paul, Horndon on the Hill which was renovated at the end of the 19th century. As a result, it is a delight for enthusiasts of the arts and craft movement. The final visit was to St Mary Magdalene, North Ockendon. The church is rich in heraldry and our own Christopher Harold gave a short presentation about two of the hatchments. The church also illustrates one of the pitfalls for the local historian. Until 50 years ago, North Ockendon was in Essex, but it is now in Greater London. Consequently you will look in vain in the current Essex volume of Pevsner to learn about the church.
Medieval font at St Michael’s, Fobbing
However, perhaps the most interesting from the point of view of Essex heritage was the first stopping place – St Michael’s, Fobbing. This too has some Anglo-Saxon architectural features on the north wall, including a now blocked window. The font is from the 13th century (although the stem and cover are modern). It would have been used to baptise Thomas Baker – one of the leaders of the Peasant’s revolt who was hanged for his participation. He is one of the candidates for a new Thurrock heritage plaque. In the 17th century, the incumbent was John Pell. The Fobbing living was a sinecure intended to finance his mathematical research and he probably spent little time in Thurrock. None the less, he invented the division sign and is undoubtedly the most prominent mathematician to have lived here. He is another worthy candidate for a new heritage plaque.
In March, 2014, the Essex Record Office played host to a conference “The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century”. The conference theme was inspired by Neil Wiffen’s reading of Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War by Curry and Hughes. On the 6th May 2017, the same venue hosted a launch for the book of the conference. This has now metamorphosed into The Fighting Essex Soldier Recruitment, war and society in the fourteenth century (published by the University of Hertfordshire Press with sponsorship from the Essex Journal and the Friends of Historic Essex; priced £18.99). The afternoon began with a seemingly endless supply of cream and chocolate cakes together with copious cups of coffee. There was also the opportunity to buy not just the book itself but many other Essex history publications from the Essex Society for Archaeology and History. We then went in to the lecture hall for the main event which was a talk from Dr Adam Chapman of the Victoria County History project on “Soldiers of the English Realm: Essex and beyond c.1300-c.1450” which drew on both the new book and also on his own publication – Welsh Soldiers in the Later Middle Ages, 1282-1422 (Boydell & Brewer, 2015, price £60).
He gave us a fascinating account of the “English” army at the beginning of the Hundred Years War (at that time mainly composed of Welsh archers, who were depicted by an anonymous clerk as wearing shoes on only one foot). By the middle of the fifteenth century this army had become a more professional and locally recruited force with participants expected to supply their own arms and armour. We were introduced to the longbows and the arrows; to the procurement of the arms and the pay of the soldiers and to ships from Essex and Monmouthshire. Especially interesting to the Thurrock historian, was an account of the small village of Fobbing.
Fobbing’s role in the Peasant’s Revolt is reasonably well known. The late Randal Bingley wrote about Thomas Baker, Hanged on the fourth of July in Panorama 44 (1987) and a photograph of the memorial at Fobbing can be found on the society’s web site. But Dr Chapman also gave us the less well known fact that in the fourteenth century, Fobbing supplied the crown with naval vessels and crew. In 1372, forty eight mariners came from Fobbing, while Stanford le Hope provided forty four more. Even East Tilbury chipped in with a further seven. There is a detailed account of the Essex contribution to the 14th century navy and the possible link to the Peasant’s revolt in chapters 6 and 7 of the book.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day; all involved deserve many congratulations.