We have several postal members who, though living away from our area, are confirmed supporters of the Society. We are able to keep in constant touch with them through issues of "Newsletter" and Doreen, our dedicated Membership Secretary, also finds time to correspond.
Mr Geoffrey Diss of Barrow-in-Furness is, and has been for several years, one of our 'postal' members and his interest lies in having discovered that there were Disses living in the Halstead area as early as the mid-Eighteenth century.
Mr Diss has sent us an Account of his researches into his Family History and describes how these enquiries has encouraged a feeling of affinity for the town which he visited for the first time in 1985.
"Parsons Lane?" I asked, in my first few minutes in Halstead. "You are in it " she replied "but it is called Parsonage Street now". I thanked her, smiled, and continued down Parsons Lane. As I walked for the next two hours I reflected on how much I felt at home. St Andrew's Church, Parsons Lane, Bridge Street, Barley Bens, Finsbury Place, Old Tan Yard, Trinity Square, Bois Field, Head Street, Market Hill, Kings Yard, High Street, Chapel Street and Rosemary Lane. All had been part of my life for the last three years but only on paper. Now that I was actually in Halstead I felt an affinity to my surroundings which I cannot describe. A sense of belonging, which I had never felt in my home town of Barrow-in-Furness.
Perhaps I had better begin at the beginning. My name is Geoffrey Diss. I was born in Barrow where I have lived for most of my life, as did my father before me. I knew my Grandfather had moved to Barrow from Peterborough in 1882 as a young man of 24. I had also been told by my father that Frederic had been brought up by the manager of a forge in a small Essex town called Halstead. I had surmised that our name had some connection with the town of Diss in Norfolk. Enquiries to my father elicited nothing further from him about our family and I assumed that he knew no more. How wrong I was.
On my father's death in 1975 I found on top of a wardrobe a photograph with the legend on the back "My Grandmother, born in Halstead Essex in 1822". There were also my Grandfather's diaries for 1878, 1881 and 1882. There was also a letter from a Canadian called Cecil Diss to my father, (also called Cecil Diss) asking if they could be related.
Reading the diaries, nearly 100 years after they had been written, was enough to release the frustrated historian in me and start me down the path which led to my becoming a member of the Halstead and District Local History Society.
Where did that path lead me and what did I find on the way? To me it is a fascinating tale but since Family Historians are notorious for being bores, I will try and paint you a general picture.
My journey started at the Society of Genealogists premises in London. Here I found that Diss, a Saxon word which means Dyke or Ditch, was one of the few surnames to have been in uninterrupted use since the 13 th century. There are many references throughout East Anglia to the surname in the 14 th and 15 th centuries. The earliest I have found is one William de Disse of County Essex in 1273. Walter Disse, a Carmelite Friar of Norwich, Keeper of the King's Boats and confessor to John of Gaunt, was perhaps the most notorious. When I arrived in the 16 th Century the picture changes dramatically. The only Disses recorded appear to be living in South-East Cambridgeshire in the area about Linton.
During the next 70 to 100 years they worked their way down the road to Halstead, the first baptism taking place in St Andrew's Church in 1627. There have been Disses living in Halstead ever since.
From the Society of Genealogists I passed through the Public Record Office at St Catherine's House, and the British Library. It was from the latter that I acquired a copy of the Ordnance of Halstead, scale 41.66 ft. to 1 inch as surveyed in 1876. This along with a county map of Essex published in 1777 helped to bring alive the Disses of Halstead.
On the 6 th March 1748 Robert Bell, Church warden of Halstead Parish, with William Sowall and William Poole, Overseers of the Poor, placed William Diss aged 15 as an Apprentice with Thomas Clark, weaver. On October 29 th 1755 William married Judith Rayner at St Andrew's Church. William's parentage so far eludes me. Judith although married in Halstead was a Bocking girl, daughter of Israel and Judith and was born in 1732. William and Judith brought up 9 children . When Judith died in 1804 she would be unaware that nearly 200 years later a large proportion of the Disses around the world would be her descendants. My own branch, the "weavers" in St Andrew's Parish, and the "Builders" in Trinity Parish (did they help to build it ?) are directly linked through William and Judith's son Samuel who married Hannah Watt at St Andrew's on December 26 th 1791.
Remaining Diss families appear to be descended from families around Linton and Romford. Whether we all have common forebears is a question I hope to settle in the future.
What part has the family played in the history of Halstead? Nothing of importance except that by their very existence they are part of Halstead's history and appear from time to time in the records of Town and Industry.
Francis Diss(W) married Ester Spurgeon at St Andrew's
Thomas Diss of Halstead appears at Quarter Sessions where he seems to have stood bond to others indicted for minor assault. He is listed as a weaver.
Matthew Diss soldier of Sudbury Borough, was issued with a certificate, probably to reside in Halstead for a period. He had married "Anne of this Parish" at St Andrew's in 1707
Mary Diss (formerly Spurgeon) is mentioned in the records of Halstead Meeting House. (Mary is my Great 2 Grandmother)
March 1853 Mary Ann Diss (my Great Grandmother)
taken to Power Looms July 1858
February 1853 Phoebe Diss Drawer No 216 -- taken to Drawing
July 1858 -- August 1865 Discharged very bad character.
January 1836 Louisa Diss aged 11 at entry, Left Jan. 7 th 1838, reentered and obtained Surgeons Certificate Feb. 1840
Louisa was my Grandfather's Aunt. In 1846 she married William Johnson, a carter. Louisa must have played some part in a family drama in the 1870 s.
In the 1871 Census my Grandfather Frederic is recorded as a scholar, living with his mother and father at 19 Head Street. In May 1872 Frederic's mother died and his father William married Harriet Alliston (W. nee Mays). Louisa and William Johnson were the witnesses at the wedding. What happened to Frederic? Did he fall out with his stepmother? We do not know but perhaps this was the time he left home to be brought up by the "Manager of a Forge" as family lore has always held. Could the forge have been the one in Head Street owned by William Wallis, a Vet?
We do know from Frederic's diaries that he finished his apprenticeship as a Watch and Clock maker with Knight's in the High Street in 1878 and moved to Peterborough. We also know that Frederic never mentioned his father in the diaries. After 2 years in Barrow-in-Furness, he married a Peterborough girl in 1884, four weeks after his Father had died. Coincidence?
Mr & Mrs Hallfield (Could he have been the Forge Manager?) Mr & Mrs Raven, friend John Spurgeon, Joe Tiffen. Also the young? ladies with whom Frederic frequently took tea and went walking. The Misses Harrington, Emily Byford, Edith Raven and the Misses Patent and Drummond (always together?). Perhaps their names and descendants live on in Halstead.
Family History is concerned with placing the past members of a family in their historical, geographical, social and occupational contexts. It also describes their activities and the lives they lived. That is why I am very fortunate to be a member of the Halstead and District Local History Society. "Postal" members I, and others like me, may be but surely we must have Halstead in our blood.
Perhaps in conclusion I could acknowledge the help and interest shown by so many correspondents, among them Albert Cross, Dave Osborne , Keith Le May. Rose Palmer (who was a Spurgeon) and not least Doreen Potts. Also to Doreen and Mary Downey who kindly spent a very informative evening with me on my one overnight stay in Halstead. I will be back.
To any member of the Diss family who might read this. For various reasons I have not researched past 1899 and my interest now is backward rather than forward. You should have no difficulty in tracing your own family back to a marriage in the nineteenth century. We are all descended from one of 17 marriages celebrated before 1837. these 17 had grown to 70 by 1899.