366 DAYS IN ESSEX takes a look back at people, places and events that day by day have made Essex what it is. However 366 DAYS IN ESSEX reflects not only the county but also the social and cultural development of the nation. Of course there were big events that Essex can rightly claim as their own, such as when Queen Elizabeth I made her famous Armada speech. Margaret Thatcher, who later became our first woman Prime Minister, began her working career in Colchester. Winston Churchill was pelted with rotten fruit while campaigning in Essex. He later became the wartime Prime Minister and also ended his long parliamentary career representing an Essex constituency. Essex was the birthplace of broadcasting and it was just off the Essex coast that pirate radio began broadcasts from Radio Caroline. Yet the ‘pirates’ demise was accelerated by a shooting incident in Essex. Although the offshore radio stations were a short lived 1960s phenomena, they made a huge impact on broadcasting that is still felt today.
As we look back to the ‘good old days’ on closer inspection it is difficult to define just when they were. During Victorian times, although Britain was building up a vast overseas Empire, there were a multitude of problems at home. There was plenty of crime with draconian penalties for seemingly minor offences. Deadly diseases such as diphtheria, small pox and polio were common until the 1950’s. Cattle frequently contracted anthrax and pigs swine fever and there were many convictions of dairy farmers for diluting the milk they had for sale. Bigamy was prevalent. Child neglect was nothing new, with concealed births and abandoned babies a regular feature of early 20th century life. The RSPCA tried to do its best to prosecute cases of animal cruelty but it was especially difficult with few staff and so many animals, particularly horses used as working beasts. The peaceful days of John Constable’s Haywain, of carts idling along peaceable county roads, were anything but. Horses took fright for slightest provocation and bolted, tipping their occupants into the ditch. Loose cattle ran down children and farmers were kicked to death by their livestock. The arrival of motor vehicles didn’t help, there were plenty of ‘boy’ racers and the death toll was proportionately appalling in relation to the number of vehicles on the road. Motor vehicles, pedestrians and animals simply didn’t mix. The days of the early railways and the magic of steam were exceedingly dangerous not so much for passengers but for the staff as accidents and death was a feature of working on and around trains. Also the iron rails and the new metal monsters that ran along them became the default way of committing suicide.
However it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There are plenty of amusing anecdotes and quirky happening from days past. 366 DAYS IN ESSEX brings them together and is a comprehensive day by day record of the happenings in the county of Essex.