An article in Saffron Walden Historical Journal on the life of a 17th century navvy has won a local history award.

'The Navvy and the Evangelist', by local historian and former local studies librarian Martyn Everett, has been recognised in the short article category in the 2024 British Association for Local History Publications Awards.

The article, which was published in spring last year, tells the story of an Essex man who was the subject of Victorian bestseller The Autobiography of a Navvy.

Until now, the man - simply called 'Bill' in the book - had been anonymous, and some suggested even fictitious.

However, thanks to new research, we now know that he was Bill Cann, who was born into a poor labouring family in Wimbish in 1820 and whose family later lived in Saffron Walden, close to the limekilns in Thaxted Road.

Bill's book told his life story of growing up in poverty, child-minding, farm labouring, poaching and prison, before seeking adventure as a navvy - a labourer employed in the construction of a road, railway or canal.

In presenting the award, the British Association for Local History (BALH) commented that "the competition is strong, and it is always a fascinating and rewarding exercise for the assessors to see that work of such quality and merit is published in our local journals".

This is the second award that Martyn has won for a Saffron Walden Historical Journal article. In 2019, he received an award for a longer article 'Revolt in the Fields: Strike and Lockout in South Cambridgeshire and North West Essex in 1872-1874'.

The article, which was published in autumn 2017, investigated the formation of the Agricultural Labourers' Union in the area.

In addition to his role as a local historian, Martyn is chairman of the Gibson Library Society.


The Saffron Walden Historical Journal is published each year in the spring and autumn.

Articles can be viewed online at

The latest edition of the journal is also on sale at the Tourist Information Centre, Hart's Bookshop, Saffron Walden Museum and Waitrose.

To order a postal copy email