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Foxearth and District Local History Society – 9th October 2018

“Who am I?” was the intriguing question around which Clare-based, Kelly Cornwell built her talk to the Foxearth and District Local History Society on Tuesday, 9th October. Sixteen members showed their warm appreciation of Kelly’s expertise and enthusiasm at the end of her detailed description of the processes of researching one’s family tree and discovering perhaps some surprising facts about one’s ancestors. From a show of hands it appeared that at least half of her audience had done some historical delving into the past and Kelly gave some valuable advice to those wishing to approach the subject.

Clarity about what you want to find out is the starting point. Recollections of relatives – especially older ones – can lead to lines of enquiry. Documents such as wills, baptism, marriage and death certificates give reliable information, although a word of caution here is relevant; it is not uncommon for a person to be known – perhaps for all their life -  by a name quite different from that shown on official documents so verifying a suspect fact before proceeding may prevent an excursion into a blind alley! Old photographs are often very useful particularly if a name, place or date is written on the back.The list of sources goes on and on including newspaper accounts, parish registers, censuses- and, if you feel like a wander, gravestones. Local Records Offices are usually very helpful. These are all possible avenues to explore off line but when it comes to searching via the computer there is a multitude of helpful web sites – some of which are completely free. Kelly demonstrated the access to some of these.Why not take up the challenge or if you would rather engage an expert to do the job for you then Kelly runs a consultancy service and over the last 14 years has achieved some impressive and highly praised results. (htpp/

Kelly told us of some of her research into her own ancestry and gave a delightful account of an aunt  who, some generations ago, was convicted of “borrowing” a gown and some jewellery from an employer for a night out. For this she was sentenced to transportation to Tasmania where her colourful career apparently continued – so, as I understand does the research!  This was a most interesting and enjoyable evening. Kelly fielded a large number of questions demonstrating the keen interest she generated.

Secretary Clare Mathieson reminded members of the arrangement for the annual dinner (The George, Cavendish, Tuesday 11th December) for which menus are available and deposits due. She also asked that members give some thought to topics, visits they would like to see included in 2019 and future programmes.

Next meeting: Tuesday 13th November at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when President Ashley Cooper will discuss Heroes, Villains and Colourful events in our Local History.

Ken Nice

Foxearth and District Local History Society Meeting Report – 11/9/18

About 25 members gathered at a meeting of the district society in Foxearth Village Hall on Tuesday 11th September to hear Dr Richard Young talk about the Victorian observatory dome  and   telescope on the top of the Athenaeum Club building in Bury St Edmunds. Although the town is not short of historical features the presence of the observatory was not widely known until the Club – which owns the observatory – decided in 2015 to launch a project for its restoration seeking to raise intially £6,000. The purpose of the project is to preserve a rare piece of astronomical history, show to the public views of the stars and to teach their location. Dr Young, Founder and Chairman of the enterprise described, with many photographic examples, the work involved with the first priority being the repair of the access stairs to the dome. In its present form the Athenaem building dates from 1789 with the dome being added after the Astronomer Royal, George Airy,  had given a talk on Donati’s comet which was then – in 1858 -  causing great excitement to local sky watchers. Rev. Lord Arthur Hervey was President of  the Athenaeum Society and a leader in the dynamic scientific community who added his weight to the movement for a dome.

The restoration will include a complete overhaul of the telescope which was made by the 19th century renowned firm of instrument makers – Troughton and Simms. It is a 4 inch retractor with a magnification capacity of between 30X and 300X and complete dismantlement, cleaning and re-assembly will be necessary to ensure its valued use for generations to come.

Dr. Young also talked about the rare sundial situated in the Abbey gardens.  The dial is on the side and at the top of a tall stone column – a Victorian drinking fountain -and dates from 1870 when it was given to the people of the town by the 3rd Marquess of Bristol. It is thought to be possibly the earliest example of a dial which allowed people to set their clocks by Greenwich mean time. Many photographs showed the details of the apparatus and the various astronomical inscriptions and calculations it bears.

This was a fascinating insight into a hitherto unexplored aspect of local history which generated a large number of questions and earned a warm response for Dr Young.

Secretary Clare Mathieson informed members that a reservation had been made for the Annual Dinner of the Society on Tuesday 11th December at the George, Cavendish. Members will shortly receive the menu and booking and deposit details.

Next meeting: Tuesday 9th October 7.30pm when Kelly Cornwell will talk about investigating your family history.

Ken Nice


Foxearth and District Local History Society

In a fascinating exposition of what “digging up the past” really means, Foxearth archeologist and author Corinne Cox entertained at the Society’s meeting on 8th May. Secretary Clare Mathieson welcomed 25 members and guests of the Stour Valley Archeological Group to hear Mrs Cox focus on the test pit excavations in Foxearth in 2013 and 2017.

As Corinne explains in her book “Foxearth Treasures” of  2014 it seems likely that the village’s name has nothing to do with a burrowing fox! Research into Old English supports a derivation from two Anglo-Saxon words meaning “folk or people” and “a piece of land or ploughed field” – but why spoil a good myth!

With the help of a large screen and computer technology Corinne took us through the excavations in private gardens and fields illustrating the detailed and meticulous approach that can prove that even a tiny piece of pottery can be the source of important information about settlements in the past. Taken together these snippets can build a comprehensive picture of community life thousands of years ago. Before any digging (a misnomer as the work with very small trowels is slow and painstaking) can take place a one metre square is marked on a site that is measured and accurately charted. Any turf is cut and put on one side before soil removal begins in layers of 10cm. The maximum depth of a pit would be 90cm. Soil strata and colour are noted and sifting to find any small pieces takes place. Some pits do not reach maximum depth because a layer of natural material e.g clay or in one case chalk is encountered -or because of time constraints. Finds in Foxearth have included many flint tools (dating back to 4,000 BC), Roman coins, a vast range of medieval pottery fragments, clay pipes – which can be quite accurately dated because over time bowl shape and stem design changed – and even some Spanish tin-glazed ware which was a very expensive commodity. All these treasures are recorded and photographed and sent for expert evaluation when necessary.

Corinne acknowledged the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Scheme – All our stories – project and the local residents who had allowed their personal space to be briefly invaded; everything is put back as it was at the end of the two-day excavation. An exhibition showing some of the artifacts and photographs is continuously on view in Foxearth church. An invitation was made to all villagers to consider offering one square metre of garden for the next series of excavations on Wednesday and Thursday, 6th and 7th June 2018. Please contact Corinne if interested.

The 2017 exercise gave senior pupils from schools in Sudbury and Haverhill the chance to experience test pit digging and this year a similar insight will be available to interested students in Bury St Edmunds and Halstead.

Another book is in the pipeline – and this is Corinne’s research into Foxearth and  the First World War. It will be called Foxearth Pals, is due for publication later this year and is eagerly awaited.

Corinne was warmly thanked by Clare for her most interesting talk which was clearly well appreciated by her audience.

Next meeting: Tuesday 12th June A guided tour of Hadleigh  – in the hands of Jan Byrne 

Ken Nice