19 August 2007

In praise of Essex part 6

When they think of Essex, far too many people automatically think the tired stereotypes: the loud drunken woman with bleached blonde hair and white stilettos; the ill-educated and violent lout in ostentatious clothing. Not everyone is like that (although like any other stereotype it is hard to shake off) and Essex is, of course, a county of many firsts.


One of these firsts (one that makes my chest with a dubious pride as an Essex-boy, born and bred) was the discovery in 2001 of the remains of a medieval woman that showed signs of syphilis.


The origin of the disease in Europe is has been debated for centuries but it had been thought that the disease was introduced after the Columban voyages to the Americas in the late 15th Century. The bones, which were unearthed in the churchyard of St Mary & All Saints, Rivenhall were dated to between between 1296 and 1445.


Dr Simon Mays, who led the archaeological team, said: "This is very important discovery.This puts the theory that syphilis was not brought to Europe by Columbus on a much firmer footing." Documentary evidence had suggested that epidemics, which raged through Europe in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, could be connected with the return of Columbus from America.


The bones belonged to a woman aged somewhere between 25 and 50 years old. The roughness of the bones and the pitted surface indicate she had syphilis. Archaeologists from English Heritage believe this was the venereal form of the disease, caught through sexual intercourse.


So there you have an Essex first to be proud of. We will never know her identity but she paved the way for many other English pox sufferers in the centuries that followed.....

Seriously, Essex does not deserve its low grade image. Romford (which has been part of Greater London since the 60s) may not be that attractive but it's no different to suburbia elsewhere. The dormitory towns may lack some spirit but is there a dormitory town elsewhere that does? As for the behaviour of the inhabitants is it any different to that of anywhere else? Of course not

Essex may not have the rugged scenery of the Lake District but it does have its own beauty and its fair share of remarkable places and fine people. See here, here, here, here and here for parts 1-5

15 comments:

Roger B. said...

One of my favourite quotes from linda Smith is "If Kent is the garden of England, Essex must be the patio."

Sir James Beiggelschwarz said...

Not everyone is like that

Just the majority then?

Alison said...

Hmmm. I don't like where these comments are going. The vast majority of people that act like that in Essex, moved there in recent times.

However, I didn't expect your piece to go there, Jams! Strange but interesting. I'm not sure where I stand with people being dug up in cemeteries now though, and labelling it as archaeology.

jams o donnell said...

LOL Roger.It's a bit unfair but sadly the likes of Chantelle Houghton add grist to the mill.

Not really sir James. Essex people are no better or worse than any others.

Alison,fundamentally I like Essex. It has a lot to offer- far more than the stereotype - perhaps that didn't come over as well as I meant to in the original post. I decided to resurrect the in praise of.. posts to deal with odder, funnier or even darker aspects of the county. One of these days I will post on Matthew Hopkins (I did Dick Turpin last year) Colonel Blood, the Reverend Bilio, The Wigborough Zeppelin crash, Durolitum when I get aroud to it.

I am thinking of doing an Essex places blog too.

Alison said...

I wasn't referring to your post in general, Jams, just other people's stereotypical views which annoy me. It is still an interesting happening!

You should do Matthew Hopkins, you could get some good pictures of the Inns etc he frequented for your post! Essex Places would be good too, show people what the real Essex is like.

jams o donnell said...

Good idea Alison. On the subject of witches there is teh St Osyth scare of 1582 to consider too.

Alison said...

I read a book about that some years ago. I seem to remember they located some burials to do with that in someone's garden...slightly unpleasant find!

Roger B. said...

I never feel the urge to leap to the defence of my home county, South Yorkshire. I'd be the first to admit that it's full of miserable sods!

jams o donnell said...

THat happened in the 1920s, a skeleton was found with iron bolts or something through the legs to stop the witch rising from the grave, I was interested to see that the "cage", the lock up where the witches were held is up for sale. That would be a property to own!

Oh surely not Roger!

Alison said...

Not somewhere I'd like to own Jams, too many bad memories...are you going to put in an offer??!

jams o donnell said...

I wish!

Chris said...

I don't miss Romford at all, but you make valid points.

What people tend to forget is that the stereotypical 'Essex boy/girl' are actually East London types who have moved up (by moving out) in the world.... ;-)

jams o donnell said...

Chris, it's a place to live. It could be worse, it's well connected for London, it's easy to get away from too!

sonia said...

the disease was introduced after the Columban voyages to the Americas in the late 15th Century. The bones (...) were dated to between between 1296 and 1445.

There is no discrepancy here. Syphilis was indeed an American disease. But Columbus wasn't the first European to come to America. Vikings were there already in the 11th century (and again in the 14th century). They could have brought syphilis with them back to Europe as well...

jams o donnell said...

There are related disorders like yaws which are not american. THe Vikings surely did reach North America as teh Vinland sagfa and the L'Anse Aux Meduse settlement testifies. Maybe that's the route. I suppose we would ahve to find Norsemen and women with the complaint too.