MANY of Essex’s historical heroes have been lionised in films, poems, books and works of art. Now two very contrary figures from the county’s past have provided the inspiration for a folk prog rock group.

Colchester and Ipswich- based folk duo, Silbury Hill, have tapped into the lives of the good and the bad to provide material for their new album Justice Of The Rowan.

The good is Walter Denny, a young man from Boxted, near Colchester, who joined the Essex regiment during World War I only to lose his life at the battle of Arras. The bad is notorious witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins who was from Manningtree and was responsible for sending hundreds of innocent women to their deaths.

Band members Scott Dolling and David Stainer have researched the folk traditions of storytelling for their album which also features a song about the plague which ravaged the county during the 17th century. In fact records show in the summer of 1665, a third of the population of Braintree – almost 1,000 people – died of the plague while in Colchester, half the population – almost 5,000 people – perished.

Featuring guitar, vocals, mandola, mandolin, bass and a range of percussion instruments, the album demonstrates a snapshot of Silbury Hill’s influences.

“Folky, prog rock” Scott, 49, calls it and there are clear nods to the pair’s musical influences of Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull but the overall style is completely their own.

‘Justice’ includes some re-interpreted traditional folk songs along with original pieces inspired by local historic and natural themes.

One of the songs ‘This Noble Man’ reflects on the First World War’s destruction through the eyes of a young villager.

Scott, from Boxted explained: “It’s about a man called Walter Denny from Boxted, which is where I am from. I found out about him when our local church was looking at the backgrounds and stories of men who fell in the war.

for the centenary in 2014,” said Scott.

“He was the son of Henry and Mary Ann Denny of The Queen’s Head pub in the village. He voluntarily enlisted, like so many other young men at that time to go to war. He was part of the Essex Regiment which no longer exists today.”

Walter was sent to fight in the Battle of Arras which was fought in the spring of 1917. It saw British, Canadian, South African, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and Australian troops attack German defences near the French city of Arras on the Western Front. There were major gains on the first day, followed by stalemate. By the time it had finished, the battle cost nearly 160,000 British lives and around 125,000 German deaths.

Today Walter’s name is featured on the Arras Memorial which is located within the French town within the Pas-de-Calais. The inscription on the monument tells how he died on April 14, 1917, aged just 19.

Scott, who works for Southend Council, added: “We were struck by the needlessness of his death, like so many other men of World War I and it inspired us to write the song. We think it’s important to keep the names of people like Walter alive through music.

“We performed “This Noble Man” at St Peter’s Church in Boxted and we are going to Arras to play in their annual music festival in June so will be taking this little musical story from Essex over to France in the summer.”

The song ‘Witchfinder’ on the album is themed on a rather less heroic character – Matthew Hopkins. Hopkins was the self-appointed ‘Witchfinder General’ and was notorious for using torture methods to extract confessions from suspected ‘witches’. As well as sleep deprivation, these included cutting the arm of the accused with a blunt knife, and if she did not bleed, she was said to be a witch. Another of his methods was looking for the ‘Devil’s mark’,. This was a mark that all witches or sorcerers were supposed to possess, that was said to be dead to all feeling and would not bleed – although in reality it was usually a mole or birthmark.

Scott added: “The title of the album ‘‘Justice of the Rowan’, relates to the injustices explored by many of the album’s songs: war, plague, murder and witch-hunting, all of which result in the loss of innocent life – the Rowan tree reputedly holds mystical and spellbinding properties. “ The duo, who regularly perform at folk festivals and events across Essex, including the Leigh Folk Festival, are frequently inspired by Essex’s rich tapestry of history.

Scott said: “Essex is full of culture, arts, amazing castles and history that many people don’t know about. We want to help keep some of these stories alive. Folk songs were originally a way for villages and communities to share and pass on stories which over time often became more legendary.”

One such larger than life legend was the formidable Boudica – about whom Scott has just finished writing another song.

Queen of the Iceni during the early Roman occupation of Britain Boudica was galvanised to violence when her husband Prasutagus died and left half of his property and lands to their two daughters, and the other half to Rome.

The Romans didn’t respect his will and took control of all the land and possessions.

They publicly flogged Boudica and dishonoured her daughters, inciting her to rebellion. Boudica and her warriors famously attacked Camulodunum (Colchester), the capital of Roman Britain in AD61 and burned the new Roman temple.

Last year human bones which date from the time of the Boudiccan Revolt, were discovered underneath a department store in Colchester.

“She was just a fascinating character, what she did in attacking Colchester the capital of Roman Britain proved she was a ferocious warrior, “ said Scott.

Justice of the Rowan’ is available from the band’s website .

Details of upcoming gigs in the region are also listed on the site.