Heritage: Glimpses of 17th century Havering from a serious diarist

Ralph Josselin was a curate at All Saints Church, The Chase, Cranham. Picture: Melissa Page

Ralph Josselin was a curate at All Saints Church, The Chase, Cranham. Picture: Melissa Page - Credit: Archant

Prof Ged Martin looks at the Reverend Ralph Josselin and his links with 17th century Cranham

Ralph Josselin was vicar of Earls Colne, near Colchester, from 1641 until his death in 1683.

After studying at Cambridge, he became a young, unemployed clergyman. Josselin was a grim Puritan, but he was also in love and desperate to get married.

His uncle, also Ralph Josselin, who farmed at Cranham, invited him to preach two sermons there in July 1640.

The visit was a success. "My uncle and all the Towne [i.e. township] desired mee to live with them; and I seemed not much against it."

Within a few months, he was curate at All Saints' church, and married. For a godly man, he drove a tough bargain: Cranham was to pay him £44 a year, a decent salary.

He also "taughte schoole at Upminster" (we don't know where). Sad to say, this first reminiscence by a Havering teacher was negative: the job "was great trouble" and "no great advantage unto mee".

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Although Cranham people were "loving", the parish had its downside. The young couple lodged with Uncle Ralph, and longed for the "conveniency" of their own home.

Worse still, Josselin's health was bad. He was "continually subject to Rheumes" (head colds). Cranham was too near the unhealthy Essex marshes.

Years later, he noted "a great mortality" among Cranham people, and was glad he'd left.

In those days, able clergymen were head-hunted. Hornchurch offered him £80 a year, "without any trouble on my part". He would only have "to preach twice on the Lord's day without meddling with other dutyes".

Eventually he preferred an offer from Earls Colne, but often returned to Cranham.

Revisiting meant arduous travel on horseback.

In 1644, "I was taken ill with a cold which sadly afflicted me for about 3 weekes".

He came back again in the winter of 1647. "It snew," he wrote, using an antique past tense of "to snow", but he "came safe at night to Cranham, yet very weary and sore, my horse trotting hard".

A later journey left him "very weary and sore, the wind blow [blew] hard in my face".

Visiting in 1651, he was really sick, so cold that he could not feel his own pulse. "I was very empty, and full of winde and sicke ready to swoone".

By contrast, in June 1653, "the heate was extreame" as he journeyed to Cranham and Ilford.

When he preached at Cranham in 1654, he found "but 5 men householders in the towne that were there in my time".

The turnover of rural population was greater than we sometimes imagine.

In April 1659, a wealthy Earls Colne parishioner died visiting Buckinghamshire.

As a mark of respect, Josselin accompanied the body home for burial.

The cortege was forced by a "dismal tempest" to stop in Romford on a Saturday night. Funerals could not travel on Sundays. He spent the whole day in Romford. That must have been fun!

In March 1660, Josselin travelled with friends to London by coach, a more comfortable excursion: "wee dined at Burntwood", the old name for Brentwood.

Josselin enjoyed news of his Cranham friends, but in 1646 Uncle Ralph told him an alarming story.

England's Civil War, Charles the First against Parliament, was in full swing. Puritans were taking control of Essex parishes.

In 1645, they'd booted out the official Rector of Cranham, and appointed their man Robert Watson. But there was soon "a sad fall".

The daughter of a local farmer became pregnant. She was engaged to somebody else, but Watson was the father.

To general disapproval, the couple hastily married. Josselin thought "the act was foule especially from a minister".

In 1651, there was another murky "scandall" about Watson, and the prodigal clergyman left Cranham soon afterwards.

Ralph Josselin was never a very happy man, but he gave us fascinating glimpses of our area long ago.