Responses to pandemic: examples from seventeenth century Essex

Essex Record Office archivist Katharine Schofield looks back at how Essex responded to pandemics in the past – it all seems very familiar.

As we struggle in a world transformed by the coronavirus global pandemic, it is interesting to look back on events of more than 350 years ago to see how the county coped with a major epidemic, in this case, of bubonic plague in 1665.

In the 17th century nobody knew what caused plague or how to treat it.  There was an understanding that it was spread by contact, but there was no knowledge of how this happened until the 19th century.  Today, we look to central government, as well as local authorities, to provide the essential services to protect us.  By 1665 there was an established procedure to deal with epidemics in parishes and towns.  There was, however, little in co-ordination beyond the individual places where the plague struck.

It was widely believed that miasma (bad smells) were to blame for the spread of plague.  It was of course also well-established that you could catch the plague from another infected person.  Stray cats and dogs were also blamed and the chamberlain’s roll for the borough of Colchester (D/B 5 Aa1/23) records payments of 13s. 6d. to Samuel Younger whoe was imployed to kill dogs and catts and a further 18s. to the dogg killer.

1 D-B 5 Aa 1-23-a CROP dogs cats with REF

To Samuel Younger, dog and cat killer 13s. 6d. (D/B 5 Aa1/23, Colchester Borough, Chamberlains’ Accounts, 1665)

The first line of defence was to try to stop people travelling and spreading the infection.  On 27 June 1636 the bailiffs of the borough of Maldon provided a certificate (D/B 3/3/207) to George and Sarah Hunt of York who had arrived in the town on 11 June to stay with Sarah’s brother Alderman Joseph Hills.  The certificate stated that they had not left the Borough neither have they since their coming beene neere the Cittie of London nor any other infected place and that they asked for this Testimoniall for their more safety in their travel , concluding  with the statement that Maldon and the whole county of Essex for ought we know, through the mercie of God, yet are free and cleere from the Infection of the plague.

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Certificate issued to George and Sarah Hunt of York. (D/B 3/3/207, Maldon Borough, Court Papers, 1636)

The use of certificates was not always a complete success.  At the Michaelmas Quarter Sessions of 1665 (Q/SR 406/104) a case was presented on the evidence of John Branch, a grocer from Wivenhoe.  He had a warrant to stop people coming to Wivenhoe from London not having lawful certificates and that any people without certificates should be stopped from landing.  Hewes, the master of a packet boat moored at Wivenhoe Quay had many passengers from London and Branch required that passengers should not come ashore without a certificate showing that they were infection free, but they refused to obey and pressed by violence to come on shore.  Branch asked two passers-by, Thomas Collin and Thomas Clarke to assist him.  Instead of assisting him, Clarke bid a turd in [Branch’s] teeth and Collin took his boat to help the passengers ashore.

Plague spread out to Essex from London.  In mid-July Samuel Pepys visited Dagenham and recorded in his diary that all these great people here are afeared of London, being doubtful of anything that comes from thence or that hath lately been there.  The epidemic first reached Chelmsford and Colchester the following month.  Both Colchester and Harwich traded directly with Rotterdam, where plague had raged since the previous year and this perhaps explains why Colchester was to suffer more.

By the mid-16th century it was customary to isolate the infected in their own homes which would be marked with a cross, or in a pest house, if available.  Colchester’s assembly book for May 1666 (D/B 5 Gb4 f.319-320) records payments to a Halloway of the parish of St. Giles who was paid £4 9s. for making ye crosses on ye doors of infected houses and a further £4 1s. for making red crosses.  In Chelmsford 1s. 4d. was paid to Blakeley for stapleing up severall dores and 10 stapells.

We have seen how quickly the Nightingale Hospitals have been built in different locations round the country and in 1665 Colchester built a pesthouse in the parish of St. Mary-at-the-Walls to accommodate plague victims who could not ‘self-isolate’ at home.  The account roll of Thomas Merridale, chamberlain for the borough (D/B 5 Aa1/23) includes payments of 7s. to Goodman Johnson for glazing and £2 10s. to Goodman Amsden for masonry work.  The scale of the epidemic in Colchester was such that one pest house was insufficient and another was built in Mile End at a cost of between £86 and £92, roughly the equivalent of wages for three and a half years for a skilled craftsman.  In Chelmsford an isolated house was purchased to house the sick at Stump Cross (today the location of the Wood Street roundabout) with 1s. 2d. paid for making cleare a house at Stumpe Crosse.

We are of course lucky today to have the National Health Service to care for the sick and for income support from central government for people and businesses.  We have also witnessed fund-raising efforts for NHS and other charities.  In 1665 there was no support from central government for people unable to work through sickness and individual parishes and towns made their own provision for plague victims.  They were soon overwhelmed by demand.

Such was the level of distress in Colchester that money was raised to relieve the suffering of the poor.  At Earls Colne, the Revd. Ralph Josselin recorded on 4 October 1665 Wee remembered poore Colchester in our collection, neare 30s. and sent them formerly £4.  In 1665 Essex was part of the Diocese of London and the Borough assembly book for 9 October 1665 (D/B 5 Gb4 f.315) records The distribucion of the £16 7s. of the Charitable monys collected in the Country upon Fast days towards the releefe of the infected poore granted to this Towne by the Bishop of London.  Nine days later a further £30 was distributed.

Money was also raised for Colchester throughout Essex by order of Quarter Sessions, administratively the predecessor of the County Council.  This started with parishes within 5 miles of the town and gradually spread further afield.  On 11 November 1665 the assembly book records that Alderman Moore received fower score and ten pounds of the hundred and Eight pounds taxed upon the Country five miles distant from this Towne for one Month last past.  As need grew, five miles was later extended to the Hundreds of Lexden, Dunmow and Hinckford, with churchwardens’ accounts in Little Sampford and Great Bromley recording the money raised.  Chelmsford’s plague outbreak had started at the same time as Colchester and by January 1666 distress had risen so that Quarter Sessions agreed a similar rate to be paid by the hundreds of Chelmsford, Rochford and Dengie for the relief of the town.

By May 1666 weekly collections were being made in London parishes for Colchester (£2,700 were raised by these means) and the assembly book on 13 May records a collection made in all London churches.

On occasion money was given by individuals for the use or releefe of the afflicted or infected poore of Colchester (D/B 5 Gb4 f.324-325). On 6 June 1666 the borough received £57 5s. 5d. collected in the city of Exeter, in May £20 was given by a London merchant unwilling to discover his name.  Sometimes the gifts were made by people with local connections, Sir Harbottle Grimston, Master of the Rolls gave £20 for the infected poore and in July £5 was given by Thomas Clarke of Ipswich, described as the son of a former sergeant at mace of Colchester.  In Braintree, another badly affected town, Charles, Earl of Warwick gave 2 bullocks a week and £12 to maintain a doctor and apothecary and his servants gave £20, while Lord Maynard gave 30 sheep and £10 and the inhabitants of Coggeshall £33.

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Sir Harbottle Grimston’s gift of £20. (D/B 5 Gb4, Colchester Borough, Assembly Book, 1665)

In total approximately around £5,000 was raised and spent in Colchester, the equivalent of more than 195 years of the wages of a skilled craftsman.  Costs were estimated at the height of the epidemic to be in the region of £500 a month.  In Chelmsford in September 1665 the parish spent £27, in October it peaked at £73 (more than three years’ wages of a skilled craftsman).  A total of £686 (around 27 years of wages) was spent before the plague ended.

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Rate collected in Little Sampford for the relief of Colchester. (D/P 122/8/1, Lt Sampford St Mary, Parish Book, 1666)

We have become accustomed in recent weeks to ‘social distancing’ when outside.  In Colchester in 1665 the searchers, who ascertained the cause of death of plague victims, and bearers, who carried the bodies to their burial swore an oath that Yee shall live together where you shall be appointed and not walke abroad more than necessity requires and that onely in the execution of your office of Searchers [or Bearers].  Yee shall decline, and absent yourselves from your familys, and allwaies avoide the societye of people and in your walke shall keepe as far distant from Men as may be allways carrying in your hands a white wand by which the people may know you and shunn and avoide you (D/B 5 R1 f. 217).

 Colchester appointed its first bearers James Barton and John Cooke on 16 August 1665.  In October the assembly book records the name of the two surgeons, Mr Raer (Chirurgeon and Pestmaster) and Mr Hendrik (a Dutch Chirurgeon) and the searcher Mr Streete.  In Chelmsford, the overseers’ accounts (D/P 94/12/2) convey something of the stresses that the disease brought.  John Green was appointed to manage the situation and he recorded payments made to him, including £5 promised me for my extraordinary care and trouble in looking after ye infected families in Moulsham and later 15s. for fire and candle and beer spended at my house those nights the corps were buryd.  The accounts include payments to bearers Daniel Stevens and Michael Hatton and 3s. to Widow Roberts and Widow Jurmay for laying forth 3 Corps and watching one night.

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Payments £5 and 15 shillings paid to John Green. (D/P 94/12/2, Chelmsford St Mary, Overseers’ accounts, 1665)

Today, we are grateful to the dedication of all the key workers who are keeping the country working, feeding the nation and of course, to the NHS staff on the front line.  Their dedication reflects that of people in 1665-1666 who battled the plague and tried to keep their communities safe from disease.

Katharine Schofield

 

1735 estate map purchase

Recently the Friends of Historic Essex have generously funded the purchase of a colourful plan of a modest 27 acre property called Great Childs, belonging to the Rev. Thomas Forbes, rector of Little Leighs (ERO, D/DU 3263). The cartouche names the surveyor as John Waite, and states that the estate straddled the parish boundary between Little Leighs and Much (Great) Waltham. The plan itself shows that it lay south of the road to Littley Green, making it possible to accurately locate the site. (TL 703 174)

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Little is known for about Forbes before his arrival at Little Leighs. He probably obtained his MA degree at Aberdeen in June 1694, was ordained deacon the same day by the bishop of London and appointed schoolmaster at Monoux’s school, Walthamstow a fortnight later. He was ordained priest in June 1695. We do know that he was instituted rector of Little Leighs in August 1701, and that he died and was buried there nearly half a century later in January 1750.

The house belonging to Forbes’s estate lay immediately to the north of the Littley Green road, just inside the parish boundary of Great Waltham. Immediately to its north and east the plan clearly shows the pale of Leez park, together with a narrow strip of woodland, marked ‘The Old Wilderness’. This is of great interest and raises a number of questions.

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Extract from the map showing the Park pale and ‘The old Wilderness’.

Nothing is known about the formal gardens at Leez. The priory had been acquired at the dissolution by that unscrupulous parvenue, Richard Rich (1500-1568). He demolished most of the monastic fabric to build a grand mansion round two courtyards and, at the same time, he acquired Littley Park which lay to the south. This medieval deer park provided Rich with an instant cachet of respectable ancestry, as well as an opportunity to make a new, more convenient and much grander access to his mansion from the south. The Old Wilderness, which is shown on Forbes’s estate plan, is just inside the pale on the eastern edge of Littley Park.

To those of puritan conviction, the most important resident of Leez was Mary Rich, countess of Warwick (1625-1678), the wife of the fourth earl, one of Richard Rich’s descendants. Her diary reveals a daily cycle of prayer and meditation, with many references to ‘the wilderness’ to which she retreated to escape from the distractions of domestic life at Leez. On receiving news of the Great Fire of London in September 1666, for example, she ‘went out into the wilderness to meditate, and to endeavour by meditation to put my soul into their soul’s stead, that were spoiled by all, and had not a house to lie in’.

It is generally accepted that Mary Rich’s wilderness was not in Littley Park but in the old monastic park, immediately to the north of the mansion, accessed by crossing a bridge over the river Ter. This appears to be confirmed by first edition 6” OS map of 1875 which shows a

square enclosure in this position, marked ‘The Wilderness’. What then was ‘The Old Wilderness’ shown on Forbes’s plan?

Due to its relatively modest status, it is most unlikely that Littley Park would have had a wilderness before its acquisition by Rich in the 1530s. However ‘The Old Wilderness’ is almost a kilometre from the mansion of Leez, seemingly an unlikely place to construct one. As already mentioned, nothing is known about the formal gardens that Rich planted round his new mansion, though it is tempting to imagine that there was once an extensive formal landscape extending from the house to the later site of Forbes’s dwelling, of which ‘The Old Wilderness’ was the only remaining fragment by 1735. Both the mansion and its surrounding landscape would have come dramatically into view on reaching the summit at the northern end of the causewayed drive that Rich had constructed through Littley Park. It would have provided a setting worthy for a self-made Tudor billionaire (though it must be emphasized that there is no archive evidence to support this speculation). After a long decline, the majority of the mansion was demolished in 1753, though most of Littley park (including the area occupied by the Old Wilderness) had remained paled and stocked with deer until that date. Subsequently it was disparked, and divided up into named fields. It has been farmed for at least a century and a half, and any trace of the formal garden that might once have existed would have been destroyed.

Forbes died in 1750 and left his property of 27 acres and 35 perches (which he called Good Childs) to his ‘legitimate or illegitimate’ grandson. Most of his fields were amalgamated in the twentieth century to form a large orchard, but the footpath which divided his property is still a right of way, and still follows the parish boundary between Little Leighs and Great Waltham.

Michael Leach

Sources:
Anon (ed) Memoir of Lady Warwick & her Diary (London, 1847).
Chancellor, F. ‘St John’s church, Little Leighs’ in Essex Review, iv (1895), p.196.
Clark, R, ‘Wildernesses and Shrubberies’ in Journal of Jane Austen Society vol 36,
no.
1 (2015).
Fell Smith, C, Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick 1625-1678 (London, 1901).
Hunter, J. ‘Littley Park, Great Waltham’ in EAT, xxv, 3rd series (1994), pp.119-24.
Leach, M,  Leez Priory entry in Chelmsford Inventory
(unpublished
Essex Gardens Trust MS, 2010).
Thomas Forbes’s estate map, ERO, D/DU 3263, 1735.
Will of Thomas Forbes, ERO D/ABW 96/3/7, 1750.
Sketch plan of Littley Park ERO D/DGh E14, 1753 (or later).
Church of England Clergy database, accessed 0/03/2020 .

 

Record rescue: photographs of First World War Clacton nurses purchased for Essex Record Office

Hannah Salisbury, Essex Record Office

From time to time we see things come up for sale at auctions (and even on ebay) which have a place in the Essex Record Office’s (ERO) collection of records of Essex people and places. The ERO, however, has only a very small budget to purchase documents. This makes us even more especially grateful for the support of the Friends of Historic Essex who, where they can, purchase documents for preservation at the ERO, so they can be discovered and used by researchers.

One such recent purchase made by FHE is this set of 14 photographs of nurses at a Clacton hospital. They have been removed from an album, and therefore potentially from precious context which could have given us valuable information about their owner and the people in the pictures. We have done our best, however, to work out where the photos were taken, and find out about the lives of the women they show.

11 of these photographs date from the First World War, while 3 look to date from the Second World War. There was little written information on the photographs, but we have managed to establish that they relate to the Middlesex Hospital in Clacton, a convalescent hospital which was converted to military use immediately after the declaration of war. During the war, the hospital treated a total of 9,242 wounded and sick soldiers, including 4,622 cases of gunshot wounds, 415 cases of trench foot, and 110 cases of shell shock.

We are able to discover such details because in the immediate post-war years the two surgeons who ran the hospital, Comyns Berkeley and Victor Bonney, wrote a book about the hospital’s wartime service, The Annals of The Middlesex Hospital at Clacton-on-Sea during the Great War, 1914-1919. A copy of this is handily available in the ERO Library, and has been an invaluable aid in our sleuthing.

Two of the photographs have the name ‘Patterson’ written on the back – perhaps the owner of at least those photographs at some point. The book includes a list of staff at the hospital, which names a Miss T.G.A. Patterson as one of the nurses.

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This photograph is marked on the back as being a visit by Princess Alice to the hospital in 1917. It was through comparing the building in the background of this picture with images of the Middlesex Hospital that we have been able to confirm which hospital the pictures relate to. Princess Alice is the lady in civilian clothing in the second row back, second from the left. Her husband is next to her, and her two children in front. Through comparing this image with others in the Annals, it has been possible to identify the lady in the front row in the matron’s uniform is Georgiana Morgan.

Miss Morgan had been Matron of the Convalescent Home before it was converted into a War Hospital. Not only was she a trained, experienced nurse, but she had also nursed for the military before, in South Africa during the Boer War. In the Annals, the authors tell us that Miss Morgan deserved ‘special mention’:

‘Her powers of organisation and management had full scope… On Miss Morgan fell most of the responsibility for the management of the men and the orderlies, and all the responsibility for the nursing of the men and the management of the nurses and domestic staff, together with the catering and the outfitting of the soldiers. In addition, she was primarily concerned in the arrangements for the transfer of the men to the auxiliary hospitals. Miss Morgan was of great help to us not only in the wards and as our chief assistant at most of the operations, but also in the important matter of splint-making, for which she exhibited a remarkable natural capacity. The first-class Royal Red Cross, which she received from the King, was most thoroughly deserved.

She could turn her hand to anything! On one occasion a patient came down to the theatre for operation and was comfortably settled on the oeprating table. There was a wait, as the surgeon had been detained in one of the wards. Suddenly the matron said: “Your hair is dreadfully long; it wants cutting.” The man consented without enthusiasm, climbed down from the table, and, taking his place on a chair outside, the scissors were vigorously applied. However, she had only got half-way through when the surgeon appeared, and so the man had perforce to be satisfied with the remark that half a cut was better than no cut at all.’

The Annals of The Middlesex Hospital at Clacton-on-Sea during the Great War, 1914-1919, pp.23-24

In 1917 Miss Morgan was awarded the Royal Red Cross, a medal given for exceptional services to military nursing.

Judging by their uniforms, most of the photographs seem to be of Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) (the information on Sue Light’s Scarlet Finders website about identifying uniform has been invaluable).

These photographs seem to all show VADs in the first year of the war. VADs wore mid-blue dresses and white aprons, sometimes with a red cross. Until summer 1915 they wore caps like the ones in these pictures, while professional trained nurses wore a veil style headdress.

After summer 1915, the VAD headdress changed to the handkerchief style cap tied at the nape of the neck, as modelled by the lady in this photograph.

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In autumn 1917 stripes were introduced for VADs to wear on their sleeves. White stripes denoted length of service working for the Joint War Committee, so it looks like the VAD in this photograph had 2 years’ service at the time the picture was taken.

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The VADs were volunteers, with no experience of hospital work. Relations between trained nurses were not always easy, but ultimately VADs proved indispensable to the running of a hospital in wartime.

‘All the V.A.D’s, including those who were on the staff, as well as those who came to us for training before being drafted to Red Cross hospitals, worked just as hard as the nurses. They were very popular, not only because they were good at their job, but also because they did as they were told without any grousing or superior airs. Moreover, they were really most useful in spite of the welcome one of the first batch got, “We may be of use to you, but you will be of no use to us,” which welcome was handed down to succeeding generations of V.A.D.’s by their colleagues, as part of the ceremony of their initiation.’

The Annals of The Middlesex Hospital at Clacton-on-Sea during the Great War, 1914-1919, p.29

According to the caption on the back this photo shows ‘Someone who appears to like work!’ Judging by her veil headdress this lady is a trained nurse, at work up on one of the first floor verandahs on the front of the hospital.

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Of the nurses, the Annals has to say:

‘…the work that they [the nurses] did was most excellent. For the first few days following the arrival of a convoy they had a terribly hard time, most of them working all through the night and continuing for the whole of the next day, so that, on many occasions, they were on duty for thirty hours or more, with practically no rest… The nurses were all popular with the wounded men, and we never heard a single complaint; on the contrary, a large number of relatives who visited their sons expressed to us on many occasions their great gratitude for all the nurses had done.’

The Annals of The Middlesex Hospital at Clacton-on-Sea during the Great War, 1914-1919, pp.25

The nurses did sometimes get to enjoy some time off, and sea bathing on the beach at Clacton was one of their favourite ways to enjoy themselves:

‘The work of the nursing staff was arduous, especially when we had a “full house”, but, at intervals, they did not have such a bad time… Bathing, lunch on the beach, and occasional pleasant picnics in the country around occupied off-duty hours in the summer time.

Bathing was very popular, and the day nurses used to get up at 5 a.m. to bathe before going on duty. In spite of seaweed and occasional shoal of jelly fish, several learnt to swim. The preparations for bathing were, however, trying, the beach being too far away, even if the authorities had been complacent, to go down in dressing gowns, whilst there were no rocks behind which a bathing costume could be discreetly donned. This difficulty was partly surmounted by the purchase of a tent and by bathing in detachments. The tent was a flimsy affair, and of the variety known as bell. It would accommodate three nurses at a time if two undressed whilst the third held the pole. The change of garments had to be effected standing up, and the physique of the occupants had to be of the average, since, so we are informed, one of the necessary movements entails a certain amount of stooping. On occasions, therefore, only two were allowed inside the tent. It happened one day that a proper supervision in this respect had not been made, with the result that two of rather more generous proportions than average entered the tent with the pole holder. The undressing had to be done in regular drill fashion to keep the tent more steady, similar articles having to be shed at the same time. When, in due course,  the stooping movement came, it was too much for the guy-ropes and over went the whole show, which would have been all very well for a revue, but it was most fortunate that the Clacton police were not on point duty at this spot; otherwise there might have been lots of trouble, as the Town Council is one of the most particular in the kingdom as regards the amenities of the foreshore.’

The Annals of The Middlesex Hospital at Clacton-on-Sea during the Great War, 1914-1919, pp.25-26

To come round full circle, we finish with another photograph marked as being taken on the day that Princess Alice visited in 1917, which shows a VAD on the left of the back row, and six women in the uniform of trained nurses.

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The photographs now have a permanent home at ERO and will be available to present and future generations of researchers.

For anyone interested in the history of First World War nursing, The Annals of the Middlesex Hospital is definitely a recommended read – both informative and full of character. It can be found in the local history section of the ERO library under E/CLAC.

If you would like to help the Friends to buy documents for the ERO collection when they come up for sale, you can become a member , sign up to Give as You Live to raise money when you shop online (at no cost to you!), or make a donation.

 

Nearly £1,600 raised for Essex Great War Archive Project

The fourth and final annual quiz to raise funds for the Essex Great War Archive Project (EGWAP) took place on Friday 20 April 2018, and raised £375 for the project. This adds to the funds raised by the three previous quizzes to make a combined total of nearly £1,600.

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Thank you to everyone who took part – we hope you all had a great night. Thank you especially to our quiz masters Chris and Wendy Hibbitt, who have run all four excellent quizzes at no charge to the Friends.

The funds raised by EGWAP will be used to collect, conserve and catalogue documents which relate to Essex in the First World War at the Essex Record Office. The benefits of the money raised will be felt in the near future and in the longer term, as documents are made more accessible to the public and are better stored to increase their longevity.

The Saulez papers relate to three Essex brothers who served during the First World War, and were purchased for the ERO by the Friends as part of EGWAP. Read more here.

We are intending to hold a joint event with ERO at the Record Office on Saturday 10th November when some of the First World War documents which have been bought or repackaged with EGWAP funds will be on display. Details will be published here and on the ERO website when they are confirmed.

In the meantime, you can find out more about ERO’s First World War collections on their blog.

Autumn Lecture 2017

Our next event raising funds for the Essex Great War Archive Project will be our Autumn Lecture on Saturday 25 November 2017, 2.00pm-4.30pm, at Chelmsford Museum. There will be two talks, both focusing on aspects of the history of the Essex coast during the First World War. The first talk will be given by David Whittle on Harwich at War, and the second will be by Andrew Emeny on Juvenile Crime in Southend.

Tickets are £5 per person including tea/coffee. Find out more, including how to book, on our events page.