The Old Water Tower  

Earls Colne  Colchester  CO6 2SZ




 Mann’s Timber Yard



 Courtauld’s Weaving Mill



 Earls Colne Printing Works



 The Atlas Works



 Royal Celebrations





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The timber yard of T & A Mann Limited stood on the east side of Foundry Lane.now the site of Willow Tree Way. In 1833, the first Thomas Mann took over the business which made barrels, and started growing trees in local plantations instead of buying in the timber which he needed.

For some tree-felling jobs, the men had to stay overnight and slept in a van on the site.

The firm revereted to the use of a steam tractor for haulage during the Second World War, while petrol was rationed.

From 1864, Courtaulds had a weaving mill in Foundry Lane, linked to their main production in Halstead and Braintree.

Most of the machine operators were young women who had left school at 12 or 14. Since their main alternative employment would have been domestic service, the mill provided them with jobs which allowed them to remain at home and contribute to their family’s income.

The Earls Colne mill produced black crape material which Victorians used to indicate when a family was in mourning. As well as wearing black clothes, they also decorated their houses with black drapery.

In this picture, Ernie Sycamore is checking the looms in the Earls Colne weaving shed. Having left the farm in Pebmarsh, he took a job as the maintenance engineer and recalls the long hours that he used to work.

“I started work at Courtaulds in 1913 as an engine driver.  I had two boilers to fire and look after. I had all of the shafting to keep clean and bright and 101 other jobs to do.  My hours were  73 each week. Sometimes I made 80 hours in a week. There were 200 looms, two rows of spool engines and several twisting frames in the factory. They were all lit by gas at that time”.

When Prince Albert died, Courtaulds supplied the black silk and crape for Queen Victoria’s mourning attire.

Ernie Sycamore recollects:

“I pulled a long blast (on the works whistle) at 20 to 6 in the morning and again at 5 minutes to 6. If the girls were not at the gates by then, they were shut out until breakfast. Some walked from Chappel, Wakes Colne and Colne Engaine.”

The trees, after they had been harvested, would come into the mill. They’d be crosscut into what we call ‘rolls’ of 28” lengths, stood on end, split into clefts, sawn and dried.

The whole operation from when they came into the yard would be something like two-and-a-half months’.

After Thomas Mann senior died in 1889 his sons, Thomas and Arthur John began to expand the timber production side of the business.

The firm had several plantations in the area.

The one in the picture on the left was at Patrick’s Farm on the Marks Hall Estate.

During the War, Mann’s supplied timber for the hulls of wooden mine-sweepers and components for the Mulberry harbours used in the D-Day landings.

During that period, Harry Mann was chairman of the firm.

Mann’s continued to produce a wide range of timber after the War, but the rapid spread of Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s had a devastation effect on their trade.

With the retirement of the last family member, Eric Mann, the business closed and the wood-yard site in Foundry Lane was developed for housing.

At the Holbecks plantation in 1927, Bill ’Scoop’ Cowlin stands beside a large tree-trunk which is being carted back to Earls Colne.

On the left of the picture above, Arthur Mann himself is overseeing work on another heavy load. Although they dealt with all types of timber, the firm had a high reputation for the species of Willow required to make the blades of cricket bats.

For some tree-felling jobs, th e men had to stay overnight and slept oin a van on the site.

The firm reverted to the use of a steam tractor for haulage during the Second World War, while petrol was rationed.

Felling a tree in 1900

Demolition of Mann’s timber-yard in 1983

In 1831, there were 284 families in Earls Colne.

According to the local census return that year, 138 of them were ‘employed’ on or ‘maintained by agriculture’.

Add to that figure the tradesmen such as millers, thatchers and blacksmiiths nd it seems that over half of the village owed their income to farming.

Hay House had been the largest farm in the village since the middle

ages. By the end of the nineteenth century, Thomas Sampson Bell

had added the land from several smaller farms, including Tile Kiln, Hungry Hall and Chandlers.

Priory Farm was created by Henry Carwardine, the Lord of the Manor, in the early years of the nineteenth century. He also provided cottages for his farm workers in Burrows Road and a group of retirement bungalows in Upper Holt Street.

The first form of mechanisation at Burnt House Farm

was provided by steam power. Two traction engines at either side of the field pulled a plough attached to a steel cable, backwards and forwards.

Horses were used to pull ploughs and carts until after the Second World War, when the farm acquired its first Fordson Major tractor.

There were several smaller

family-run farms.

The Willshires and their relations, the Wakelings, were at Burnt House Farm, near the boundary with Great Tey.

At Green Farm, three horses were needed to pull the binder which cut the corn and toed it into sheaves.

After drying in the field for a few days, the sheaves were taken by cart and stacked in the barn-yard near the Cricket Meadow.

After the war, combine harvesters - which cut and threshed corn in one operation - began to appear in the village. The picture shows two at work on fields on the former wartime airfield.

Earls Colne Printing Works

(shown by the white arrows)

looking west

looking east

In the late nineteenth century, a printing works was opened in the High Street on the site now occupied by the Sue Ryder shop.

The left-hand picture shows the front office - looking like a garden shed - with Dickie Parmenter’s shoe-repair workshop beside it, nearest the camera.

The printing machines were housed in a rambling wooden building across the yard from the front office.

Metal type was set by hand from cases like this one:

The superimposed white characters indicate a common layout of such type-cases.

(thins, mids, thicks, en, em and quads (quadrats) are names of spaces)

AE, æ and OE, o   are dipthong ligatures,   fi, ff, fl, and ffi are ligatures - each being on a single piece of type)

The largest printing press, like the one in this picture, used wooden type to produce the large-scale letters needed for posters and advertising placards

The company was in much demand for all local printing requirements, and was one of the first local companies to be connected to the telephone exchange. As the directory for 1903 shows, it was allocated the number ‘Earls Colne 4’.

It later became part of George Root’s Halstead printing firm and the Earls Colne premises closed in the 1960s.

Works Gate in early 20th century.

Demolition of the Atlas Works in 1988

 Despite all attempts to move with the times and a merger with Christy Brothers Limited in 1983, orders continued  to decline, and the works closed in June 1988. As John Stedman recalls, he and his colleagues learnt of the  closure barely two months before it happened..

We knew that something was going on in the April of 88 - Easter. That was a funny weekend.  You knew that you were  going to hear something when you got back. It felt like it was going to be grim news, which it turned out to be. A lot of people  had drifted off and got jobs where and when they came up. You couldn’t blame them really. I stayed until the last day - I’d  had enough by then”.

The Atlas Works began its main expansion in the late 1860s with the construction of the four workshops opening in the front yard.

In this view of the new buildings, drawn before 1886, the chimney of the original foundry can be seen in the centre. The yard still has no boundary wall along Foundry Lane.

Pouring molten metal from the furnace into the sand-filled moulds was hot, dirty and dangerous work.

Even so, as Tim Osborne remembers, there was a strong sense of comradeship among the foundry workers.

“That was a bad job, so there had to be didn’t there?

They used to have an old fruit tin, one that had had peachhes in, or sometimes a treacle tin. And they used to put water in it and a couple of spoonsful of tea and they used to stand that on top of the hot runway where they’d just poured, so they could make them,selves a  cup of tea in the afternoon.”

In the 1960s, the casting and machining processes were modenised. Electric furbaces made the foundry a more efficient and cleaner place in which to work. Electricity also drove the equipment in the Machine Shop, replacing the need for overhead belts.

Small wooden patterns for grinding wheels

In the Turnery (later known as the Machine Shop) rough castings were cleaned on lathes and milling machines to produce the finished components.

Power to drive the lathes and other machines was produced by these Paxman diesel engines, under the supervision of ‘Bucky’ Ruggles. The Power House is now the doctors’ Surgery.

The Wood Shop produced hoppers and legs for the grinding mills, as well as packing cases and other wooden components.

 Some products retained their traditional design. The horse -drawn Cambridge Roller of 1900 (above) is little different  from its 1970s version, with Stan Eley, Jack Smiley and  Frank Frost standing behind it.

 From 1912 onwards, the Works produced its own  range of pulleys and couplings to transmit power to  belt-driven machinery. Fred Everitt is standing in  front of a pulley 8 feet (2.44m) in diameter, the  largest that the firm produced..

New and improved machines were designed, such as this BM Minor bruising machine, which was inspected by the Queen and Prince Philip at the 1963 Royal Show, where it was awarded a Silver Medal.

Pen and wash picture of the workshops, by Bill Soan 1989



Mann’s Timber Yard


Courtauld’s Weaving Mill


Earls Colne Printing Works


The Atlas Works


Royal Celebrations


Portraits of Weavers

         Florence Scillitoe                            Daisy Ellis                         Florence Hay Heard                           May Jessie Scillitoe

The Earls Colne mill closed in 1925 when a new weaving shed opened at Halstead. After that, women employees were taken to and from Halstead each day by one of Blackwell’s open-topped buses.

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  Earls Colne celebrated Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887   with a programme of activities which became traditional for future   royal events.

  A procession made its way from the Cricket Meadow to the Priory    where sports and refreshments were followed by an evening of   dancing and fireworks.

A triumphal arch spanned the High Street, built by the carpenter Charles Wash.

An oak tree was planted at the junction of Park Lane and Church Hill.

Another memento of the occasion is still visible.

Having invited donations from villagers, a fund-raising committee chaired by the curate, the Revd Theophilus Chute, decided to install a Jubilee Clock in the church tower.

 For Queen Victoria’s Diammond Jubilee in 1897, the Anchor  pub at Colneford Bridge put out the flags and nearby residents  in their ‘Sunday best’ posed for Mr Tyler’s photograph.

 Other festivities were taking place on the green in the distance.

A popular event, first staged in 1887, was a comedy cricket match between the ‘Gentlemen’ and the ‘Clowns’with the umpire dressed as a policeman, to try to keep order.

 The Coronation of King Edward VII gave an opportunity for local businesses to  compete with their decorations. George Wenden is proud to pose outside of  his butcher’s shop in the High Street, opposite the Lion Inn.

Just before the Coronation of King George V in 1911, a grand Empire Pageant was staged on the lawns of the Priory. A barge brought Britannia across the ornamental lake, to be greeted by representatives from the British Isles and the colonies.

The Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935 was celebrated by a carnival procession. The Carnival Queen, Elsie Webb, and her attendants are seen boarding a horse-drawn coach in the Atlas Works yard before setting off to join the parade.

For the Coronation of King George VI in 1937, the Carnival Queen had a less ornate carriage than her predecessor.

Again, local businesses competed with their decorations and Mr Hectpr Witney won a prize for the elaborate transformation of his barber’s shop.

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

An innovation for the 1953 Coronation was the installation, by electrical dealer Eddie Thomson, of a television  at the Grammar School so that the ‘old folks’ could watch the broadcast ceremony taking place inn Westminster Abbey.

Despite the heavy rain, a procession of floats made its way from Colneford Hill to the Cricket Meadow, and Don Stedman decorated his familiar pony and trfap for the occasion. However, the bad weather caused the postponement of the children’s sports and firework display.

The procession for the

Queens’ Silver Jubilee was led by the Revd Stuart Holden

in his other official capacity as Town Crier.

A Flower Festival was on display in the Parish Church. This arrangement in the church porch uses one of the small ‘Attlas’ grinding mills made by R Hunt & Co.

The Jubilee celebrations ended with a bonfire and firework display

Over the years there have been numerous gatherings for social occasions, but the story of carnivals, fairs, fêtes and flower shows will be the subject of later exhibitions.

From their formation in 1889, the Earls Colne Band provided musical accompaniment for many local events, but sad to say their final performance was in 1953.