A STUDENT has uncovered a diary which reveals more about the life of a renowned prison reform activist.

University of Essex History student, Julie Miller has discovered a rare, first edition volume, signed by Elizabeth Fry while on placement at the Essex Record Office.

Penned in 1831, 'The tiny tome', which is around the size of a matchbox further proves her links to Maldon, stating she was a nurse to the family of Mary Carter, who lived at Wentworth House.

Julie said:  "It’s a cracking little book and it seems Mary used it almost like a diary, as she had marked specific days with birthdays and anniversaries. 

“Finding something so personal from one of the most renowned Quaker women, topped off a fantastic time at the Record Office."

Julie spent 12-weeks in the Record Office in Chelmsford as part of her MA history course, studying the life of 18th century Quaker and anti-slavery campaigner John Farmer from Colchester.

She decided to do the course after she was diagnosed with life changing breast cancer. After her diagnosis, she wanted to learn more about where she is from.

Julie said: “I was born and bred in Maldon and worked in local heritage in the town, so to find the building where Mary Carter lived is at the end of my road was an extraordinary co-incidence. 

“I don’t think anyone in Maldon knew Elizabeth Fry had visited the town, so I am now going to do further research to find out the extent of her connections to the local Quaker community and the town in general."

Fry was born in Norwich into a prominent Quaker family in around 1780.

She was a driving force behind new legislation to improve living conditions in Victorian prisons.

She also helped the homeless, creating a night shelter in the capital, campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade and opened a train school for nurses.

Until 2016, she also featured on British £5 note.

Edward Harris, from the Essex Record Office, said: “Elizabeth Fry was a social reformer and an important figure in British history.

"We know that she had connections to Essex.

"Her name is even inscribed in the council chamber at Essex County Council, alongside other famous sons and daughters in Essex. 

“But through this book, we have evidence of a previously unknown connection, which is great because it opens up the possibility of further research into her connections with Maldon.  

“There are hidden stories behind a lot of the material we have at the Record Office, and thanks to our links with the University, we are able to reveal those stories and communicate them to the general public.” 

The first edition of this book was published privately in 19th century. It is unknown how many copies were printed or how many are still in circulation now.

The Essex Record Office has valued the book as priceless.

Susan Barker, Essex County Council's cabinet member for customer, communities, culture and corporate, added: “The Essex Record Office is a fantastic resource where visitors and residents of Essex alike can seek to unlock their own histories.”