Wood was the only source of firing and all cooking was done over an open hearth fire. Ground floor ceilings had no plaster, the first floor boards being simply nailed to the joists which were substantial and often beautifully molded in the main room, as in Room 3.
During the restoration a half basement was revealed with water pipes leading in and out. This could have been a wool washing vat. Also, during an early repair a bundle of sharpened wooden skewers were found in a wall. These were perhaps used for fastening bolts of cloth.
On the front of the house is a characteristic wooden bressemer or beam supporting the overhanging first floor, carved with a contemporary design of spiral vine leaves. At the south end is an archway or gatehouse through which was access for the clothier's carts and wagons carrying wool from his warehouses to the spinners and weavers throughout the countryside.
Bocking was for centuries famous for its cloth and wool industry. The clothiers purchased the fleece wool from local farmers and at distant wool sales. In the diary of the important Saville family of Bradford Street, there are several entries of visits to Wool Sales at Sudbury and Stourbridge Wool Fair at Cambridge.
After purchase, the wool was sorted, washed and combed and distributed to the spinners who were the farmworkers' wives and children. The yarn was collected and delivered to the weavers who had their own looms in their houses, usually a large front room with wide windows, or an outbuilding constructed for this purpose.
The yarn was woven into thick pieces of cloth called "Bays" about 40 yards long. The cloth was collected and sent to the water mill for fulling or thickening; after which a "Nap" was raised on the cloth by a tool on which teasel heads were mounted. This nap was shorn for evenness with a large pair of shears. The cloth was then shrunk and graded.
The museum is run jointly by the Braintree Civic Society and the Braintree District Council. It is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday afternoons in the summer. Admission is free. A guided tour of the Museum can be arranged if notice is given.
ROOM 1 RECEPTION
Notice the heavy beamed oak ceiling.
Among the books is a complete edition of the Essex Review, a mine of local history. There are also works on the Textile Industry and family bibles, John Speed's "History of Britain 1627" and the history of the Braintree Church Rates case.
A table is provided for students wishing to study. Books must not be taken away, ROOM 3
ARCHAEOLOGY AND HISTORY
The oldest objects to be seen in the Museum are fossil bones of extinct animals such as the Icthyosaurus and the woolly mammoth. The mammoth tooth was found 20 ft. deep on the site of Courtauld's factory at Bocking in gravels probably laid down in the third Interglacial period over
100,000 years ago. Beside the tooth is shown for comparison one from a modern Asiatic elephant. Flint axes of the Old Stone Age (perhaps 10,000 years ago) and New Stone Age (up to 5,000 years ago) provide evidence of man's presence hereabouts in these early times.
IRON AGE AND ROMAN
Shortly before the Roman invasion of A.D.43? this part of Essex was occupied by a tribe called the Trinovantes, whose King Cunobelin (Cymbeline) had his capital at Camulodunum (Colchester). There must have been a fair sized Trinovantian settlement here in Braintree and pottery from it is shown in this Museum, including a fine pedestal urn from the Maizies, Braintree. Other pottery can be seen in the Castle Museum, Colchester, where there is the collection of a local vicar, the Rev. J, W. Kenworthy.
In the Roman period, Braintree stood at the cross-roads of the Roman roads going west from Colchester to Bishop's Stortford and St. Albans (Verulamium) (the present A120) and north from London (Londinium) and Chelmsford (Caesaromagus) to Long Melford (the present A. 131). Recent work is providing much new evidence of the size and importance of the Romano -British town which grew up at this point. Pottery dating throughout the period has been found in many areas. Some of the more complete pots are shown here. Many coins have also been discovered, including one hoard of over 3,000 coins of the 3rd Century, found before 1828, and another dating from the time of the Emperor Vespasian (A.D.69 - 79) unearthed in a garden of High Garrett, Bocking. It is possible that many of the Museum's coins shown in a case in Room 6, come from these sources.
MEDIAEVAL AND LATER
A few sherds of pottery recently found in the area to the south of Braintree church have provided
the first clue to the occupation of the district in the Dark Ages and Anglo-Saxon period. It seems likely that, as was the case with many Romano-British settlements life continued on or near the site of the town after the break-up of the Roman way of life in the early 5th century A.D.
Braintree was granted market rights in 1199 and grew in importance from that time. It was a great age for pilgrimage. Braintree was on the Pilgrim Route from Canterbury and London to Bury St. Edmunds. Special inns were built in the town to accommodate pilgrims. Note the Costrel or pilgrim's bottle in the wall case. A lane leading from Bocking to Halstead is still called Pilgrim's Way.
By the middle of the 16th century both Braintree and Bocking were doing well in the clothing industry. The arrival of immigrants from the Low Countries in the 16th century contributed towards the continuing prosperity of the cloth-workers, who were now also making bays and says.
Few objects from these centuries survive in the museum. There are some floor tiles of the 13th and 14th centuries from Cressing, Essex and Sudbury Priory, Suffolk, Tudor and later pottery from sites in Braintree and Bocking, and some 17th century stoneware Bellarmine jugs - these carry a face said to have originated as a caricature of an unpopular Dutch Cardinal called Bellarmine of the 16th century. 17th century tokens (in Room 6 upstairs) give names and occupations of some of the local tradesmen.
The fireplace is a reminder that the sole source of fuel in the 16th century was wood. The fireback has the royal Arms of the Tudors and came from a house in Braintree High Street. An adjustable pot hanger and chimney crane and a weight driven roasting jack in the fireplace are probably 18th century or later.
The Scold's Bridle, made specially for the benefit of the fair sex, is another noteworthy exhibit, probably of the 17th century.
18th CENTURY ONWARDS
Several families of clock makers lived in the town, in particular the Fordhams who worked here for three generations in the 18th century. Four of their clocks are on show.
Other local crafts include straw plaiting introduced into Essex in the 19th century and lacemaking, both of which are well illustrated here.
The remainder of the exhibits downstairs provide a picture of domestic and small-town life from the end of the 18th century, through the Victorian era into the early 19th century. Notice the white pottery bear advertising bear's grease which stood in W. Coote's hairdresser's shop - this shop sign can be seen on the 1826 print of Braintree Market Place, and the collection of fire marks of the 13th and 19th centuries. These were fixed to the walls of houses by private companies which carried out the fire-fighting and refused to protect any building which did not carry their own marks. Once fire-fighting appliances were made available for all fires, marks continued to be fixed to houses as advertisements for the different insurance companies.
POTTERY AND PORCELAIN
The case of cream coloured earthenware represents the first domestic ware mass produced in the early 19th century. There is a good collection of farmers' jugs and mugs, and beautiful lustre jugs.
The extraordinary Hedingham pottery of Edward Bingham, father and son, is well represented here. Edward Bingham, Junior, had a flourishing family pottery business at Castle Hedingham (8 miles from Braintree) in the second half of the 19th century.
The Essex jug with its representations of local history, families, industries, etc. is a fine example of his work. Incidentally pottery has been made at the Hedinghams since Roman times, Bingham himself having reported the discovery of a Roman pottery kiln at Hole Farm, Sible Hedingham in 1888.
The collection of Lambeth Delft Drug Jars came from the surgery of Dr. John Harrison in Bank Street, Braintree. Dr. "Jack" was a well-known practical joker and well loved Doctor. (See "Memories of Dr. Jack" in the library, 1857 to 1929). Some of the jars have remains of the original contents inside, and many still have their metal lids, which is unusual.
In 1809, George Courtauld, himself descended from a refugee Hugenot family, moved his silk business from Pebmarsh to Braintree, thus continuing the tradition of earlier clothiers. For many years the Courtaulds and their families dominated the local scene, and it is hoped to devote this room to them and their industry, which from these very humble beginnings, has developed into a large international company.
At present paintings and busts of the family can be seen together with the silver trophy presented to Samuel Courtauld after the historic Church Rates case.
Also shown here are some small personal possessions of the 18th and 19th centuries including some patch boxes; a wallet stamped with the name of John English of the well-known 18th century Braintree clothier family; and part of a large collection of beads from all over the world, made by Mrs. Lowe (heiress of Samuel Courtauld) at the end of the 19th century.
The bust in black basalt is said to be of the Rev. W. Scale, Vicar of St. Michael's church for 25 years. Mr. Alfred Hills suggested that it was made by Enoch Wood of Burslam, c.1820.
Part of the original wattle and daub construction of the house can be seen here together with carpenters' marks.
Before the 18th century all fine porcelain was imported from China at vast expense and English potters made great efforts to equal, this. Here is a case of important specimens of Worcester, Caughley, Bow, Derby, Liverpool and Bristol soft paste porcelain, of the 18th century. Note the small size of the tea pots and tea cups. In those days, whereas farmworkers were getting 10/- per week, the cost of tea was £1 per Ib,
The second case in this room contains a mixed collection including Toby jugs, Staffordshire figurines and the Mailing Jug, a rare example of 17th century salt glaze ware, embellished with silver mounts,
In the 19th century reading and gossip were the principal sources of indoor recreation. Braintree possessed what is claimed to be the oldest Book Club in England, an exclusive organisation which celebrated its centenary with the large silver rose bowl. Election of members and. chairman was by ballot, in the Ballot Box. This was said to be in use at a Freemason's Lodge before the Book Club acquired it.
Here also is a collection of coins, a reminder of the Roman occupation of the town. Also trade tokens of the Braintree clothiers and other tradesmen.
On the stairs returning to the entrance hall is a plaster cast of a bust of the celebrated Essex naturalist John Ray, 1627 - 1705; who was born and died in Black Notley. His work was the foundation of much later botanical and other studies.
Many of his original drawings and writings are in the British Museum of Natural History and photocopies of some of these are displayed on the main staircase.
Other Museums in the area are the important Colchester Castle Museum, The Essex Archaeology Museum at Chelmsford, the Cottage Museum at Great Bardfield and the Saffron Walden Museum and the Kelvedon Museum.