Chelmsford Then and Now: 62 High Street – from prison to M&S

In this tenth blog post in our Chelmsford Then and Now series, our former student researcher Ashleigh Hudson looks at her final property. Today the site is part of Marks and Spencer’s – but in times gone by it was used for a rather different purpose…

From the early 17th century, a large portion of the current site of Marks and Spencer was occupied by the county’s House of Correction. By the early 19th century, deteriorating conditions forced the closure of the House. The site was eventually demolished to make way for several new buildings. The site housed various retail establishments until the 1970s when sites 62-66 were absorbed by Marks and Spencer.

Houses of Correction were established in the early 17th century, as a place to send vagrants, beggars, and those ‘unwilling to work’. Petty criminals and prostitutes could also find themselves committed to these institutions. The inmates were put to work, but were often not there for very long. A spell in a house of correction may well also have included whipping, especially for those charged with offences such as theft or prostitution.

From 1587 the county House of Correction was situated in Coggeshall, but by 1593 the property had deteriorated considerably. The house was sold in 1611 and the county purchased the site of 63-64 Chelmsford High Street. Shortly after, the House of Correction admitted its first prisoners under the watchful guard of Keeper Walter Kellaway.

In order to provide suitable work for the prisoners, Kellaway was in charge of a range of equipment including mills to grind wheat and malt, wheels to spin flax and cotton, and billets for pounding hemp. Perhaps anticipating being charged with unruly or troublesome individuals, Kellaway also had chains and manacles. This account list highlights the interesting contrast, inherent in all houses of correction, between punishment and reform.

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Bill of implements for use in the House of Correction, 1612, including ‘A mill to grind wheat’, ‘2 Wheels to spin flax’, ‘7 Paid of cards to card wool’ (Q/SR 197/143)

Prisoners from across Essex were admitted to the house on a range of charges, as punishment for perceived lewd, idle, vagrant or disorderly behaviours. Peter Lake was admitted in 1616 for vagrancy and ‘keeping the company with the wife of John Mayfield as if she were his own wife’, while Susan Larkin was admitted in 1617 for ‘living lewdly and out of all order to the disquiet of her neighbours’.

Women accused of being pregnant out of wedlock were often admitted to the House for a whole year. A Bastardy Order made by Sir Henry Mildemay and Sir John Tirell condemned Elizabeth Clarke to the House of Correction to receive ‘due punishment’. The Justices, apparently on the complaint of the town, ordered the reputed father to pay 12d weekly until the child was able to provide for itself. (There is no mention as to whether he was also sent to the House of Correction, but we can probably safely assume he was not.)

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Bastardy Order made by Sir Henry Mildemay and Sir John Tirell committing Elizabeth Clarke to the House of Correction, 1636. (Q/SR 294/22)

Prisoner escapes were not a common occurrence, although it was a cause of concern given the location of the House of Correction in the High Street. In April 1776 the Chelmsford Chronicle reported that prisoners had escaped from their ground floor dormitory at the House of Correction in the early hours of one morning. In scenes reminiscent of the Shawshank Redemption, prisoners reportedly pulled up the floorboards with a gimlet and tunnelled under the foundations into the yard. Despite the best efforts of the local constabulary, several of the prisoners remained at large three days later.

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Article from the Chelmsford Chronicle reporting the escape of 15 prisoners from the House of Correction, 5 April 1776

In the mid-18th century the House of Correction expanded to include three brick prison buildings where the more unruly prisoners were detained. The original timber-building, fronting the High Street, continued to be used by the Keeper and his family. Renowned prison reformer John Howard described his visit to the House of Correction in his 1777 book entitled The State of the Prisons in England and Wales. The men and women had separate quarters, with the men’s accommodation located on the ground floor and the women’s, to the same design, located on the floor above.  The Keeper, Thomas Ford, informed Howard that prisoners had an allowance of three-pence a day, for which they had a pound and a half of bread, and a quart of small beer. Howard described the courtyard as ‘small and not secure’ resulting in the prisoners always being kept indoors. Furthermore, he described the rooms as ‘offensive’ and generally inadequate.

Several years later, reformer James Neild visited the House of Correction and met with the Keeper Thomas Ford who he found to behave ‘…not only very humanely, but also very religiously to his prisoners’. While Neild found the house to be under satisfactory leadership, the same could be not for the state of the property, which Neild concluded had:

…many and great inconveniences, and is by no means calculated for the purposes to which it is applied.

By 1803 the premises had deteriorated further and on a subsequent visit, Neild was compelled to report this damning verdict:

On my visit the 31st July 1803, I found the good old keeper dead; the whole prison [was] filthy and out of repair; in the two upper rooms five women and two children sick on the floor; the straw worn to dust; and in one of the rooms a cartload of rubbish heaped up in a corner. In one of the sick rooms below were four women; in the other room six women and two children, one of the women quite naked, another without a shift, the other four had neither shoe nor stocking…The whole prisoners were coniferous, and almost desperate for water…The prisoners complained of the want of medical attendance, and, if I may judge from the filthiness of the fores and bandages, not without reason.

Not surprisingly, Neild was relieved to discover that a new site had recently been purchased adjacent to the new county gaol. The site was completed in 1806, with the prisoners moving in that same year.

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Illustration depicting the new site of the House of Correction and County Gaol.

Suggestions as to what to do with the vacant site continued for some time. At one point it was hoped that the site should be redeveloped to accommodate the judges visiting the town for the Assizes although this plan never came to fruition. The property was ultimately sold in 1811 and demolished a year later, making way for two new brick houses.

Various retail properties occupied the site over the course of the 19th and 20th century, including a branch of Singer’s Sewing Company (at no. 64). In the 1970s, the individual sites of 62-66 were consolidated by Marks and Spencer, forming one of the largest stores on the high street.

OS maps of Chelmsford 1963 and 1974

OS maps showing dramatic change on the west side of Chelmsford High Street between 1963 and 1974. The largest store seen on the 1974 map is Marks and Spencer

The extract from the 1963 OS map above depicts 62-66 prior to the arrival of Marks and Spencer. There are a number of small properties, packed closely together, dominating the stretch currently occupied by M&S. By 1974, these properties had been consolidated to form one large property. The 1974 OS map presents a significantly cleaned up version of the high street. Marks and Spencer continue to occupy the same spot on the high street today.

If you would like to find out more about the House of Correction or any other of the topics covered in this series, Hilda Grieve’s excellent two-volume history of Chelmsford, The Sleepers and the Shadows, is available in the ERO Searchroom, or you can dive straight in to Essex Archives Online and explore our catalogue. For a contemporary account on the state of prisons in the 18th century see John Howard’s, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales.

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Discover more of Chelmsford’s history at:

Chelmsford Through Time

Our county town of Chelmsford may look modern on the surface, but look a little deeper and you will find layer upon layer of history waiting to be discovered. Chelmsford’s history is richly told by maps, photographs and sound and video recordings, as well as documents. Come along to see and hear them for yourself, and for a talk from architectural historian Dr James Bettley on some of the major changes to the town since the Second World War.

Saturday 29 October, 10.30am-3.00pm (talk at 1.30pm)

Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT

No need to book, suggested £2 donation (places at talk first-come-first-served)

Chelmsford Then and Now: 26 High Street – Royal Bank of Scotland

In the ninth post in our series looking at the history of Chelmsford High Street, Ashleigh Hudson looks at no. 26 High Street through the centuries. Find out more about the project here.

Over the centuries, the lives of a whole cast of characters have played out at no. 26 Chelmsford High Street. Its origins are as a private residence, but it was used during the 19th century as grand lodgings for travelling judges visiting the town. Later it accommodated the Essex Weekly News offices, and today is occupied by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In the early 18th century the property was owned by the Goodwin family of goldsmiths. They sold it in 1718 to Sherman Wall, an apothecary, who later passed it to his son, also apothecary named Sherman. In about 1738 Sherman’s daughter Amey married Benjamin Pugh, who was himself a child of an apothecary. Benjamin was a surgeon, and a pioneer in the fields of midwifery and smallpox inoculation. As part of their marriage settlement it was agreed that Amy would inherit the site of 26 High Street upon her father’s death. The building on the property must have been substantial, as it is referred to as the ‘mansion house’.

The marriage settlement of Benjamin Pugh and Amy Walls in which 26 High Street is referred to as the ‘mansion house’. (D/DU 755/45)

The marriage settlement of Benjamin Pugh and Amy Evans (nee Wall) in which 26 High Street is referred to as the ‘mansion house’, 1738 (D/DU 755/45)

Sherman Wall died in 1744, and by 1755 Benjamin Pugh established full control of the property and had commissioned the demolition of the existing buildings to make way for the handsome red brick four storey town house we see today. Benjamin owned the property until 1772 when he sold it to John Lucy.

For several decades in the 19th century the house was used to accommodate judges who were visiting Chelmsford to preside at the Assizes – periodic courts which heard the most serious criminal and civil cases. The engraving below, by J. Ryland, depicts the grandeur of the Assize procession through the High Street.

Engraving by J. Ryland depicting the judges’ procession through the High Street prior to the opening of the Assizes. (I/Mb 74/1/109).

Engraving by J. Ryland depicting the judges’ procession through the High Street prior to the opening of the Assizes. (I/Mb 74/1/109).

These lodgings must have been rather more luxurious than the judges had endured in the past. In 1806, the High Sheriff of Essex, James Urmston, wrote to the chairman of the Quarter Sessions (the county authority which preceded the County Council) highlighting the inadequacy of existing lodgings for the visiting judges. Accommodation had been provided by the Ipswich Arms (site of 73 High Street) which, according to Urmston, was in such a dire state the building faced demolition. Certainly, Urmston thought, the accommodation was not befitting ‘men distinguished by their rank and talents and venerable years of learning’.

The judges requested that their new lodgings should contain two dining or sitting rooms for the judges themselves, a sitting room for attendants, an office for the judges’ officers and clerks, a servants’ hall and large kitchen as well as eleven separate bedrooms.

After spending a few years in temporary lodgings in various private residences, a solution to the judges’ woes was found in the shape of the mansion house. The property had been purchased in 1811 by James Potter, a draper who had intended to use the house as his main residence. Shortly after purchasing it, however, Potter agreed to its use as judges’ lodgings. The judges must have been comfortable there as the arrangement continued until the house was sold in 1849.

Extract from the Sales Catalogue of 1849. The property contains a handsome bold staircase which led to a large suite of rooms on the first floor. The document also mentions that the apartments were recently occupied by the Judges of the Assize. (D/DU 755/45).

Extract from the Sales Catalogue of 1849. The property contains a handsome bold staircase which led to a large suite of rooms on the first floor. The document also mentions that the apartments were recently occupied by the Judges of the Assize. (D/DU 755/45).

In 1869 the property was bought by John Taylor and Edward Robbins, who ran the Essex Weekly News. Various alterations were made to the interiors of the building, including the addition of a machine room in 1903. Images captured by Chelmsford’s preeminent photographer Fred Spalding, who lived just a few doors away, show us what the printing room looked like at this time.

Watercolour by A.B. Bamford of 26 High Street in 1906. Occupied by Essex Weekly News. (I/Ba 14/22)

Watercolour by A.B. Bamford of 26 High Street in 1906. Occupied by Essex Weekly News. (I/Ba 14/22)

Building plan of the machine room, 26 High Street. (D/B 7 Pb74)

Building plan of the machine room, 26 High Street. (D/B 7 Pb74)

The Essex Record Office fortunately possess several Spalding photographs which capture the machine room in action.

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Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1255)

Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1256)

Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1256)

Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1257)

Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1257)

 

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The 18th century building is currently occupied by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The Grade II listed building retains much of the original 18th century detailing today, despite having functioned in various capacities since it was built. The site is currently occupied by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

If you would like to find out more about this property see Hilda Grieve’s detailed history of Chelmsford, available in the ERO Searchroom. Alternatively, search document reference D/DU 755/45 on Seax for a large bundle of deeds relating to 26 High Street.

Chelmsford Then and Now: 61 High Street – from pubs to Paperchase

Today, no. 61 Chelmsford High Street is occupied by Paperchase. In the eighth post in our series looking at the history of Chelmsford High Street, Ashleigh Hudson looks at what else has stood on the site through the centuries. Find out more about the Chelmsford Then and Now project here.

In the 16th century, the site of 61 High Street formed part of two tenements known as Cocksayes and Patchings. By 1618, the site was divided into three distinct properties. The central property (61) was occupied by the Ship Inn, later known as the Waggon and Horse. The inn was ideally situated opposite Springfield road, in the heart of the High Street.

Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, revealing two tenements on part of the site that would later comprise of 61 High Street. (D/DM P1)

Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, revealing two tenements on part of the site that would later comprise of 61 High Street. (D/DM P1)

From 1798 the inn was known as the Queen’s Head which was described as a ‘good accustomed public house now in full trade’ in 1807. The Sales Particulars reveal a large property, with considerable facilities for entertaining including a bar, a large parlour and a market room.

One of Spalding’s earliest photographs of the High Street c.1869. The Queen’s Head can be seen on the left.

One of Spalding’s earliest photographs of the High Street c.1869. The Queen’s Head can be seen on the left.

The Queen’s Head continued to provide visitors with modest accommodation throughout the 18th and 19th century and the inn benefited from a steady flow of trade.

The Queen's Head can be spotted on the far left of this image (I/Mb 74/1/55)

The Queen’s Head can be spotted on the far left of this image (I/Mb 74/1/55)

A later view of the Queen's Head

A later view of the Queen’s Head

Watercolour of the Queen’s Head Yard by A.B. Bamford in 1906.

Watercolour of the Queen’s Head Yard by A.B. Bamford in 1906.

The watercolour above, by A.B Bamford, depicts the Queen’s Head Yard in 1906. The romanticised image of the yard is perhaps at odds with reality. Most inn yards were a hub of activity, with horses passing through at all hours of the day and night. The yard certainly would not have appeared so inviting a century earlier. In the 18th century the Queen’s Head yard adjoined the prison yard belonging to the House of Correction which occupied the site of 63-64 High Street. Prison reformer James Neild visited the House of Correction in 1803 and reported the building to be ‘filthy and out of repair’ concluding:

‘What renders this wretched prison more unbearable [is] the offensiveness of the hog-stye of an adjoining public house.’

Neild was unfortunately referring to the Queen’s Head. One can imagine the visitors staying at the Queen’s Head did not enjoy a room with a view, thanks to the ‘hog-stye’ and prison yard located to the rear of the property.

By the 20th century, inns and public houses were slowly disappearing from the high street as the demand for retail increased. The Queen’s Head managed to survive until the 1970s when it was demolished. A quick comparison of the Ordance Survey (OS) map of 1963 and the OS map of 1974 reveals that a substantial section of the west side of the high street was completely redeveloped.

The Queen’s Head is identifiable on the 1963 map by the ‘PH’ initials, which stands for public house. The property has quite a distinctive, backwards ‘L’ shape and a narrow passageway is visible, sandwiched between the Queen’s Head and the site of 62 High Street.

The OS map from 1974 reveals a very different property on the site of 61 High Street. The shape of the building has completely changed and the narrow passageway has been consolidated to form part of the new building. Entry to the yard can only be obtained via the rear of the property.

OS maps of Chelmsford 1963 and 1974

OS maps showing dramatic change on the west side of Chelmsford High Street between 1963 and 1974

These maps illustrate how the town was transforming in the 20th century; based on these maps, one would imagine that the west side of the high street is virtually unrecognisable to those who remember the high street as it looked in the 1960s.

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Current image of Paperchase, occupying the former site of the Queen’s Head.

Today nothing remains of the original Queen’s Head building and the site of 61 High Street is currently occupied by Paperchase.

If you would like to find out more about the Queen’s Head see Hilda Grieve’s detailed history of Chelmsford The Sleepers and The Shadows.  Alternatively, try searching the Queen’s Head in Essex Archives Online. The Essex Record Office possess a fantastic range of OS maps which are available for viewing in the Searchroom.

Chelmsford Then and Now: 58 High Street – jewellers, musicians and vets

In the seventh post in our series looking at the history of Chelmsford High Street, Ashleigh Hudson looks at no. 58 High Street through the centuries. Find out more about the project here.

No. 58 Chelmsford High Street is today occupied by the jewellers, Goldsmiths. John Walker’s 1591 map of Chelmsford identifies a small property named Felsteds on this site. The shop took its name from Henry of Felsted and his son Robert, who purchased the shop in the early 14th century. By the time Walker made his survey the shop was owned by Thomas Hawes.

Goldsmith's jewellers, Chelmsford High Street

Goldsmith’s jewellers, Chelmsford High Street

Extract from John Walker's 1591 map of Chelmsford pointing out the site of no.58 High Street (D/DM P1)

Extract from John Walker’s 1591 map of Chelmsford pointing out the site of no.58 High Street (D/DM P1)

Felsteds was one of the smallest properties fronting the west side of the high street and was recorded as having only 2 hearths in the 17th century. By 1708 the property was occupied by a musician, James Wright. Wright’s will bequeathed a range of musical instruments, bows and strings to his granddaughters, Ann and Lettice Wyatt.

Extract from the will of James Wright, 1708, bequeathing his musical instruments to his granddaughters (D/ABW 79/191)

Extract from the will of James Wright, 1708, bequeathing his musical instruments to his granddaughters (D/ABW 79/191)

Wills are a fantastic source of information which can tell us a great deal about the person who wrote it, particularly in terms of family relations. Wills give a good indication of an individual’s personal wealth, but they can also reveal the items and possessions individuals valued. One would imagine that as a musician, James Wright would have highly valued his collection of instruments.

Wills also provide evidence of property ownership. From 1841 the property was occupied by veterinary surgeon Samuel Baker and his family and we know from Baker’s will that after his death the property passed to his wife, Caroline Baker. The property stayed in the Baker family into the 20th century.

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The will of veterinary surgeon, Samuel Baker, 1857.

Throughout most of the 20th century, the site housed various jewellers. From 1922, the jeweller Oram and Sons occupied the site and continued to do so until the 1940s when the store came under the ownership of W.G Webber. This continuity has continued to the present day, with the jewellery chain Goldsmiths occupying the site today.

If you would like to find out more about this property, see Hilda Grieves’ detailed history of Chelmsford, The Sleepers and The Shadows. The Essex Record Office has a fantastic collection of wills, many of which have been digitised and can be accessed through Essex Archives Online.

Information compiled from the research and report produced by ERO Archive Assistant, Sarah Ensor.

Chelmsford Then and Now: 40-41 High Street

In the sixth post in our series looking at the history of Chelmsford High Street, Ashleigh Hudson looks at no. 38 High Street through the centuries. Find out more about the project here.

In the 16th century the site of 40-41 High Street was occupied by a medieval inn called the Boar’s Head. From 1633 the inn was known as the King’s Head and it continued to operate on the site until 1929 when the property was demolished to make way for a branch of F.W Woolworth. Woolworths vacated the site in 2010, making way for the arrival of Barclays Bank, who continue to occupy the site today.

Extract from John Walker's map of 1591 showing the Boar's Head

Extract from John Walker’s map of 1591 showing the Boar’s Head

From the mid-15th century the site of 40-41 High Street contained a medieval inn known as the ‘Boreshed’, which in 1591 was occupied by the widow Anne Bridges. In 1633 the ‘Boar’s Head’ changed its name to the ‘King’s Head’, although the nature of the premises remained the same. The inn benefitted from a prime position on the high street and was a very popular establishment. A Sale Catalogue from 1807 described the King’s Head as an ‘old and well-accustomed inn’. The property boasted a bar, two parlours and a large market room, indicating the inn had the facilities to accommodate a range of events and activities.

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Front view of the King’s Head, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 4768)

The inn was modest in size, but well equipped to cater to the various visitors passing through the town. The inn provided stabling for up to thirty horses, which was accessed through a narrow passageway leading from the high street to the yard. This coloured plan of the King’s Head from 1842 reveals the structure of the property fits the standard pattern for coaching inns.

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Plan of the King’s Head, Chelmsford High Street (D/DOP T2).

By the early 20th century, a growing demand for retail establishments in the high street led to the closure of many of the town’s inns. The highly respected Walter J. Greenwood, who served as landlord of the King’s Head for over thirty years, was also its last before the inn was demolished to make way for a branch of F.W. Woolworth.

In the 1920s, rumours circulated that developers intended to demolish the King’s Head to make way for an ‘entirely new and handsome premises’. It was hoped that the new building would improve the overall appearance of the high street and bring it in line with other developments.

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Springfield corner several years later. F.W Woolworths has now replaced the King’s Head

The much anticipated Woolworths store opened in the summer of 1929 and was immediately embraced by Chelmsford residents. The fancy new premises included a large shop floor where a wide range of merchandise was displayed. Above the shop floor there was a large store room and several offices for employees. The store initially employed around forty young shop assistants, all of whom were from the Chelmsford area. The shop front contained two entrance swing doors and several large display windows where stock was displayed to entice passers-by. Above the display windows, gold embossed lettering proudly spelled out ‘F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd’.

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Woolworths, Chelmsford High Street. Customers frequently left their bicycles, unchained, outside while they popped inside the store to browse

Woolworths continued to operate throughout the Second World War, though the store did not escape completely unscathed.  In May 1943 Chelmsford’s industries were targeted by the Luftwaffe and many of the shops on the high street were caught in the cross fire, including the Woolworths store. The store was struck by burning debris and as a result, the wooden counters towards the rear of the store caught alight. Fortunately, several members of staff, who were reputedly paid ‘danger money’ to sleep in the store overnight, were on hand to douse the flames. The charred site allegedly remained roped off and kept on display for the duration of the war.

The store continued to prosper throughout the rest of the 20th century, with development and expansion occurring periodically. By the 1960s, the store had undergone a vast programme of modernisation. The acquisition of a block of six shops in Springfield Road provided additional space for the store to expand. The new extension was said to have increased counter space and the range of goods on sale. It also created superior staff quarters, a cloakroom, lounge and a spacious canteen. The work took around two years to complete, although the store was said to have operated as normal during this time with minimal disruption to customers. Woolworths remained on the site until the early 21st century when, sadly, the firm went out of business.

In 2010 it was announced that Barclays Bank was in talks to relocate from their premises near the Shire Hall to the site of the former Woolworths store. Barclays have enjoyed a long history in the town, having previously occupied the Grade II listed building now containing Jamie’s Trattoria.

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Exterior of Barclays Bank which was built in 1905.

The attractive, red brick three storey building was constructed in 1905 after the former owner, six time Mayor Frederick Chancellor, vacated the site. The property retains all of the original 18th century detailing externally, although obviously the internal modelling has altered substantially with time.

Barclay's Bank Chelmsford High Street

Barclays today, situated on the former site of Woolworths and the King’s Head

The current Barclays store, located to the south of the High Street, has a much more contemporary feel. At street level, the Barclays building may look very different to those who remember its former life as a Woolworths. The upper façade of the building however is very much unchanged and serves as a subtle reminder of a not so distant past.

If you would like to find out more about the site of 40-41 High Street, try searching the Boar’s Head or the King’s Head in Seax. Alternatively, see Hilda Grieves’ detailed history of Chelmsford The Sleepers and The Shadows which is available in the ERO Searchroom. Additional information regarding the Chelmsford Branch of Woolworth’s provided by Paul Seaton of woolworthsmuseum.co.uk

Chelmsford Then and Now: 38 High Street, Black Boy Inn

In the fifth post in our series looking at the history of Chelmsford High Street, Ashleigh Hudson looks at no. 38 High Street through the centuries. Find out more about the project here.

The site of 38 High Street is most often associated with the famous coaching inn, The Great Black Boy, which served Chelmsford residents and travellers alike for over three hundred years. The inn was demolished in 1857 and from the late 19th century, the site housed various retail establishments including fashion retailer Next who occupy the site today. A blue circular plaque commemorating the former site of the Black Boy currently sits just above the entrance of Next, ensuring that memory of the much revered inn lives on.

John Walker's 1591 map of Chelmsford, with the Black Boy Inn highlighted on the junction between the High Street and what is now Springfield road

John Walker’s 1591 map of Chelmsford, with the Black Boy Inn highlighted on the junction between the High Street and what is now Springfield road

John Walker’s map of Chelmsford depicts a large, two storey property sitting on the site of 38 High Street. The property belonged to the widow Elizabeth Stafford and was known locally as the Crown or New Inn. By 1642 the inn was known as the Great Black Boy and was one of the most popular inns on the high street. Ideally situated on the Colchester to Harwich Road, the inn grew prosperous on the traffic passing through the town. During the 18th century, the original, timber building, as depicted on the Walker map, was pulled down and rebuilt.

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Illustration of the Black Boy Inn after it was rebuilt.

During the 17th century, coaching inns were a fundamental part of the country’s transport system. The coaching inn provided travellers with space to eat, sleep, and drink, as well as stabling for horses. The Essex Record Office is fortunate to have a building plan of the Great Black Boy which reveals how coaching inns were typically constructed.  A large gateway allowed coaches to pass through the property into the yard where the stables were located. Remarkably the gateway appears to sit on the same spot as in the Walker Map, despite the property having been rebuilt in the 18th century. The accommodation is situated relatively close to the yard, which perhaps made it difficult for guests to sleep undisturbed. A large inn such as the Black Boy could expect coaches coming and going throughout the day and night.

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Map of the Black Boy Inn and Brewery, 20 inches to 1 mile 19” x 27”, 1817. (D/DDw P40/1).

The Black Boy was also linked to the town’s mail service, accommodating the Post Office from 1673. The inn provided a mail coach service which passed through the town twice a day and contained a Post Office guard to ensure the coach safely reached its destination.

The Great Black Boy, by virtue of its great size, operated in various capacities. In the early 18th century for instance, the inn served as a detainment centre for residents deemed disloyal to the King. Several men were held at the inn under ‘suspicion of being disaffected to King George’. The Essex Record Office holds several letters written to Anthony Bramston during his incarceration at the inn.

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Letters to Anthony Bramston during his incarceration at the Black Boy Inn, Chelmsford, held on suspicion of disaffection to King George I. (D/Deb 70/1-4)

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the Great Black Boy was overwhelmed by an influx of military personnel, who were stationed in Chelmsford as hostilities between England and France escalated. The possibility of an attack via the Essex coastline must have seemed of secondary importance however to the town’s innkeepers who were kept extremely busy accommodating the spike in trade. The town was soon hosting more men than space could permit, and many soldiers resorted to sleeping in stables or barns.

From the late 18th century, the Great Black Boy served as an important social hub, providing a popular space for communal gatherings. Several clubs and societies, including the Chelmsford Tradesmen’s Club and the Chelmsford Pitt Club, met regularly at the inn. The Black Boy also hosted various assemblies and balls, although this practice declined somewhat after the construction of the Shire Hall in 1791. The inn also attracted many notable visitors in its day. In October 1832, the Chronicle reported that the Duke of Wellington changed horses at the Black Boy on his was to Sudbourn Hall for a shooting trip. A few years later, Charles Dickens reputedly stayed at the inn while working as a newspaper reporter. Looking out of his window at the Black Boy, Dickens famously concluded that Chelmsford was the ‘dullest and most stupid spot on the face of the earth’; to be fair apparently it was a rainy day.

The arrival of the railway in Chelmsford in 1843 severely impeded the Black Boy’s trade by removing much of the passing traffic. By the mid-19th century the Black Boy was in decline with various outbuildings, stables and the yard progressively sold off. Between 1848 and 1851 the inn operated as a minor hotel. New owner John Amery was optimistic the business would turn around and committed the property to considerable alterations and improvements. Just ten years later, the Black Boy closed its doors for the last time. The inn was sold in 1857 and was later demolished leaving a gap on the high street which remained vacant for just over a decade.

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Sale Catalogue of the Black Boy Inn in 1857.

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Early Spalding photograph of Chelmsford High Street. On the far right it is possible to make out the gap left by the demolition of the Black Boy.

By 1868 the vacant space was ironically filled by Bernard’s Temperance Hotel. In the 19th century, Temperance advocates promoted alternatives to alcohol, which they viewed as a social evil.

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Chelmsford High Street photographed from the south, revealing Barnard’s has now taken over the spot formerly occupied by the Black Boy inn.

The Hotel only survived on the site until the early 1920s, before it was once again put up for sale. The sale catalogue indicated excellent foresight in stating:

“…with its excellent depth could be easily converted to form one of the finest shops in the town, possessing as it does exceptional facilities for window front and display purposes…”

Shortly after, the site was filled by Boots the Chemists. Various alterations were made to the exterior of the property including the addition of large display windows. Just above the entrance, large lettering announces ‘Boots’.

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Front corner of Boots the Chemists, Chelmsford High Street. (SCN 3934)

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View of Chelmsford High Street, taken from the south featuring Boots the Chemist on the former site of the Black Boy inn. The photograph captures Springfield corner prior to pedestrianisation. (SCN 3140).

The arrival of Boots in some ways indicated a break with the past and the beginning of a new era for the high street. The Black Boy had prospered because it catered for a specific need, that of travellers passing through the town on the London to Harwich Road. The arrival of the railway diminished the flow of traffic through the town and therefore the demand for accommodation. As the population increased, the demand for retail grew and the high street transitioned into a shopping destination.

The site is currently occupied by fashion retailer Next. The memory of the Black Boy inn is commemorated today by a blue circular plaque stationed just above the entrance to Next.

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Fashion retailer currently occupies the former site of the Black Boy inn.

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If you would like to find out more about this famous posting house, try searching for ‘Black Boy Inn’ on Seax. Alternatively, see Hilda Grieves’s detailed history of Chelmsford The Sleepers and The Shadows which is available in the ERO Searchroom.

Chelmsford Then and Now: 28-31 High Street – Debenhams, Bonds, the Falcon Inn

In the fourth post in our series looking at the history of Chelmsford High Street, Ashleigh Hudson looks at nos. 28-31 High Street through the centuries. Find out more about the project here.

Nos. 28-31 Chelmsford High Street have, in their long history, previously been a pub, the Falcon, Chelmsford’s first department store, Bonds, and today is occupied by Debenhams. Using maps, newspapers, photographs and other records at the ERO we can trace the history of the site back to the 1300s.  Hilda Grieve in her incomparable history of Chelmsford The Sleepers and the Shadows gives us the following key details on the site:

1381 – owned by Nicholas Cook, an innkeeper selling wine and victuals

1384 – Robert Glover bought the property from Nicholas Cook, including a house, 4 shops, pigsty, garden and yard

1567 – first named in sources as the Falcon Inn

1591 – owned by Benedict Barnham, alderman of London; the landlord was probably Humphrey Cordall

Extract of John Walker's map of Chelmsford, 1591, showing site of Falcon Inn (D/DM P1)

Extract of John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591, showing site of Falcon Inn (D/DM P1)

By 1591 there were 11 major inns in the town, including the Falcon. Innkeepers were supposed to be licensed, but the town authorities frequently dealt with people who had been selling ale unlicensed or running brothels. The Falcon was a mid-sized inn which survived on the site until the early 18th century when it was pulled down and replaced with three attractive brick houses.

The properties were built to serve as private dwellings but they increasingly adopted a dual purpose, providing both a retail and residential space for the growing town’s entrepreneurs. At the north end of the site Robert Serjeant ran a newfangled Coffee House. In 1787 number 28 was occupied by Andrew Smith who ran a successful linendrapery. Apprentice records reveal that Smith was able to employ various young, female apprentices between 1790 and 1802 to assist with running his thriving business.

For a few decades the development of these properties occurred sporadically according to the needs and means of particular owners. In 1870, however, J.G Bond, owner of a drapers shop in Moulsham Street, moved to the prime site of 28 and 29 High Street. Several months after opening, Bond placed an advertisement in the Chelmsford Chronicle boasting of an enlarged shop and new show rooms.

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Advertisement featured in the Chelmsford Chronicle shortly after Bond’s opened on the High Street.

The ambitious Bond had a keen eye for development and in 1881 submitted plans to construct a bridge connecting the upper floors of 28 and 29 as well as plans to redevelop all of the outbuildings. By 1902, Bond had absorbed Saltmarsh’s store (no. 30), as well as Edward Wills’ Draper shop (no.31) and finally the chemist owned by Wilson Metcalf (no.27).

The 1911 Census reveals that Bond employed 24 members of staff, mostly from the Chelmsford area. This extraordinary rate of growth was facilitated by the growing prosperity of the town and the increasing population in Chelmsford.

As the store grew, Bonds offered a wider range of merchandise which reflected the very latest trends and fashions. You can get it at Bond’s was pasted on the old steam buses and frequent advertisements appeared in the local newspapers announcing the arrival of new stock.

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Advertisement featured in the Chelmsford Chronicle announcing the arrival of the Summer season.

 

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J.G. Bond’s van-dressing entry for the Chelmsford carnival of 1929. Bond recognised the importance of advertising and used the event as an opportunity to market his growing business.

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Advertisement featured in the Chelmsford Chronicle in the 1950s.

An advertisement for Bond's involving elephants

An advertisement for Bond’s involving elephants

The Bond frontage dominated the east side of the high street for nearly a century. The photograph below, captured in the 1930s, gives a real sense of the shop’s size and its domineering presence on the east side of the high street. Two storeys of windows displayed the shop’s vast array of stock.

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Spalding photograph of Bonds in the 1930s.

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Bond’s, Chelmsford High Street.

The store remained on the same site until the 1960s when it was purchased by Debenhams, who continue to occupy the same spot today. If you have ever visited and wondered why the internal layout is on different floor levels and is all a bit twisty, now you know – it’s because the layout of the site dates back to the medieval period.

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Debenhams, Chelmsford High Street 2015.

If you would like to find out more about J.G Bond or the Bond’s store see Hilda Grieve’s detailed history of Chelmsford The Sleepers and The Shadows. Alternatively search ‘Bonds’ in the British Newspaper Archive, available free from the ERO Searchroom, to view a wide range of the Bond advertisements.

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Find out more about Chelmsford at two of our events for the Chelmsford Ideas Festival 2015:

The Changing Face of Chelmsford

Immerse yourself in Chelmsford past in this display of maps, photographs, and sound and video recordings.

Saturday 24 October, 10.30am-3.00pm

Tickets: £2.00

No need to book, just drop in

Part of the Chelmsford Ideas Festival

 

Walk: Chelmsford – Walking with Walker

The Walker map of Chelmsford is one of the gems in the Record Office’s collections. Using this as a starting point, we will uncover some of the secrets of Chelmsford High Street. The walk is on flat terrain and under one mile.

Wednesday 28 October, 2.00pm-3.30pm

Tickets £6.00

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Part of the Chelmsford Ideas Festival

Chelmsford Then and Now: 4-5 High Street – Crane Inn, Spalding’s, Natwest

In this third post in our series looking at the history of Chelmsford High Street, Ashleigh Hudson looks at nos. 4-5 High Street through the centuries. Find out more about the project here.

The current site of NatWest Bank at the north end of Chelmsford High Street is most commonly associated with the Spalding family who occupied the property from 1892. Fred Spalding junior ran a successful photography and fancy goods business which remained on the site until the mid-20th century. The property was built in the 18th century on the former site of the Crane Inn and was mostly used as a private residence until the arrival of the Spalding family.

During the 16th century the Crane Inn, which was owned by Sir Thomas Mildmay, occupied the sites of 4-6 high street. The Crane Inn and yard, which is visible on the Walker Map, comprised numerous buildings which were progressively divided into smaller, individual properties during the 18th century. Number four was purchased by Thomas Old, a wine and brandy merchant, who rebuilt the property in 1784. The owner of number 5, Robert Tweed, perhaps inspired by his neighbour, rebuilt his own property the following year. The properties continued to function as private residences through to the 19th century.

Walker map extract

Extract from John Walker’s 1591 map of Chelmsford, showing the north end of the High Street where the Crane Inn was situated. (D/DM P1)

From 1871 number 4 was owned and occupied by wine merchant John Champ. The Champ residence was an attractive three-storey brick property.

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Early photo of the High Street taken from the Shire Hall. The Champ residence can be seen on the right of the Saracen’s Head Hotel.

Champ conducted a successful wine and brandy import business from the premises which was frequently advertised in the local newspapers. Ironically, Mr Champ himself did not drink. Chelmsford Mayor Frederick Spalding recalled the following encounter whereby a well-known local tradesman paid a visit to the residence to observe the different vintages of port and wine in Mr. Champ’s well-stocked cellar. Quoting Mr. Champ:

“That is a very special port, and I should say from the age and condition that it is worth quite 15/- a bottle.” On arriving back at the office he [Champ] said to his visitor, “Can I offer you anything to drink?” “Yes” came the quick reply, “I should like a glass of port from the special bin you showed me.” Mr Champ hesitated, but would not go back on his word. He brought a bottle and it is said the gentleman finished it before he left.”

The property obviously made an impression on the young Fred Spalding who purchased it shortly after John Champ’s demise in 1892. Fred Spalding’s father, also called Fred, was a self-taught photographer who got into the business really as the art itself was taking off. Fred senior moved to Chelmsford around the same time, where he set up business on Tindal Street. The Tindal Street store proved prosperous and this was where the young Fred Spalding learnt the family trade.

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Photograph of Tindal Square in the late 1860s. In the centre of the image is the original Spalding shop. The premises is fairly small and quite understated in comparison to the later shop situated on 4-5 5 High Street. A glass studio, necessary for photographers prior to the introduction of artificial lighting, is visible on the roof of the property.

By 1892, Fred Spalding junior was on the hunt for new premises to accommodate his expanding business. John Champ’s residence, described by a sale advertisement as occupying the most ‘commanding and desirable’ location in town, came up for sale in October of that year. Spalding surely agreed with the advertisement having purchased the property shortly after. He promptly commissioned the noted local architect Frederic Chancellor to redevelop the existing buildings to enable to smooth transition from ‘house’ to ‘shop’. Chancellor’s plans for the changes have survived and are deposited among his practice’s papers at ERO.

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Plan of alterations for the interior of number 4 High Street. (D/F 8/280)

The most noticeable change was the addition of large, glass display windows at street level which were used to display photographs and goods for sale.

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Plan of alterations for the exterior of number 5 High Street. (D/F 8/280)

Spalding’s skilfully arranged displays were renowned for captivating passers-by and drawing business into the shop. On one particular occasion in 1905, a Spalding’s display unintentionally exposed simmering tensions between the local constabulary and the town’s tradesmen. Crowds had gathered outside the shop window to view photographs taken of a recent railway accident in Witham. The Chief Constable of Essex later wrote a letter to the Town Council complaining that the display was obstructing the use of the pathway causing pedestrians to step into the road. The Constable scathingly wrote:

“Mr Spalding evidently thinks that the curtilage of his premises extends to the whole footpath and a part of the road…During my experience of over five years in this town I have found that the greater offenders against the laws of obstruction are the tradespeople…”

Mr Spalding, dismayed by the ‘trivial’ nature of the complaint responded:

“It is the ambition of tradesmen to make the best show they can of their goods. If the police are going to try to stop the tradesmen from showing their goods, the sooner I shut up shop the better.”

The issue was discussed at length by the Town Council where the complaint was universally agreed ridiculous, with Councillor Waller concluding:

“It was the people on the path who made the obstruction. If the police could not move them on they don’t seem to me to be competent.”

The shop continued to thrive throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The large crowd, depicted in the photograph below, have gathered outside the Spalding shop to await the arrival of Father Christmas, who made an annual detour to visit a grotto located inside the premises. This tradition was a popular and very well attended event.

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The annual visit from Father Christmas to the Spalding shop was an extremely popular and well-loved event. (SCN 3914)

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A large crowd eagerly awaiting the arrival of Father Christmas outside the Spalding shop in the 1920s. (SCN 3995)

The shop continued to operate during the war years, providing emergency shelter for up to 150 people. Shoppers caught on the high street during an air raid could find safety in the extensive basement below the Spalding shop.

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The Spalding Shop, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 2261)

Frederick Spalding survived the war but died shortly after. He was a much revered member of the town, having served for over 50 years on the Town Council as well as three consecutive terms as Mayor. The closure of the shop swiftly followed, marking the end of an era for Chelmsford photography. For the best part of a century, the Spalding family captured both the history and character of the town. The legacy of this endeavour can be found in the vast collection of photographs which are housed in the Essex Record Office. The Spalding image collection, which number in excess of 7000, is available for viewing from the Essex Record Office Searchroom.

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NatWest, Chelmsford High Street

At first glance the current NatWest building appears radically different but in reality, the original features of the 18th century building still remain and are visible beneath the layers of pale blue and cream paint.

If you would like to find out more about Fred Spalding and his photography shop see The World of Fred Spalding by Stan Jarvis available in the ERO Searchroom. Alternatively pop into the ERO and browse the fantastic collection of Spalding images located in the Searchroom.

Chelmsford Then and Now: The Saracen’s Head

In the second in our series looking at the history of Chelmsford High Street, Ashleigh Hudson looks at the Saracen’s Head Hotel. Find out more about the project here.

The Saracen’s Head was first recorded on the site of Number 3 High Street in 16th century parish registers. Remarkably the Saracen’s Head continues to occupy the same site today, having served as a popular and well frequented establishment for nearly five hundred years.

Saracen's Head Chelmsford

The Saracen’s Head today at the north end of Chelmsford High Street

Walker map Saracen's Head

Extract from the 1591 Walker map of Chelmsford. The Saracen’s Head is the third building down on the eastern side of the High Street, opposite the old Market Cross, where the market and court hearings took place. The property backs onto ‘Saracen’s Head Meade’ (D/DM P1).

John Walker’s map of Chelmsford includes eleven inns dotted along the high street in the 16th century. On the site of 3 High Street sat The Saracen’s Head inn; a large, two storey property constructed from timber. Chelmsford was ideally situated on the road to London and therefore made a welcome resting point for weary travellers. The survey which accompanies Walker’s map tells us that Richard Brett was in charge at the time:

The Sarazens Hedd – an Inn with buildings, gardens, curtilages, and orchards, Richard Brett also holds a piece of waste in front of the Sarazens hedd in length “xv foote of assise and in breadeth Easte and West vj foote, for moveable stalles to be used in the market time.”

 

The Saracen’s Head grew into one of the largest inns on the high street, boasting an impressive 18 hearths according the Hearth Tax Assessment conducted in 1671.

Chelmsford’s growing prosperity and increasing trade facilitated the redevelopment of the property in the early 18th century. Owner Thomas Nicholls took a second mortgage out on the Saracen’s Head, describing the property as ‘lately erected and new built’ in 1724. Development came at a price and unfortunately Nicholls was unequipped to pay it. He defaulted on the mortgage repayments and the property subsequently passed to William Taylor. Despite Nicholls’ personal financial shortcomings, the Saracen’s Head continued to prosper into the 19th century. We are fortunate to have a beautifully written will belonging to Saracen’s Head innkeeper George Lake which reveals the growing wealth of the town’s tradesmen. Lake was able to bequeath twenty pounds each to his mother and sister as well as an annuity of thirty pounds to be paid over their lifetime. While many of the original Tudor inns were either demolished or replaced by various retail establishments, the Saracen’s Head continued to thrive and proved itself a profitable establishment.

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The will of Saracen’s Head innkeeper George Lake in 1845. (D/ABW 137/1/144)

From the late 18th century, inns increasingly provided an important social space in the heart of town. The Saracen’s Head, as one of the largest inns on the high street, was a popular venue of choice and hosted a whole range of activities, clubs and events.

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Photograph taken from the north end of the High Street in the late 19th century. The Saracen’s Head can be seen just behind the Sebastopol Cannon which has since been moved to Oaklands Park.

The Chelmsford Beefsteak Club met once a month at the inn where they had their own cellar reserved. Every summer the inn accommodated the Flowerists feast and prior to the construction of the Shire Hall in 1791, the Saracen’s Head hosted various concerts and balls. Advertisements were frequently placed in local newspapers announcing the events which attracted visitors from across the county.

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The Chelmsford cycling club posing outside the Saracen’s Head in the 1890s (I/LS/CFD/00006)

The Saracen’s Head was equally popular with local residents, who perhaps appreciated the long history of the ancient establishment. Mayor of Chelmsford Frederick Spalding recalled:

“…the little back room, which I remember very well, was what one might call a club room, because every seat in it during the evening was occupied by some well-known resident of Chelmsford… If you were at any time permitted to go into this room and happened to seat yourself on any particular chair you would be politely told that at 7 o’clock, when Mr. – came in, you would have to vacate it.”

During the Second World War, the Saracen’s Head opened its doors to the American Red Cross. Known locally as the ‘American Club’, the hostel provided sleeping accommodation for up to 30 men as well as providing meals for up to 300 soldiers per day. The hostel was kept separate from the Saracen Head’s main bars and even had its own entrance. The Chelmsford Chronicle hastened to reassure residents that the opening of the American Club ‘would in no way affect the bars, which will be carried on as usual’.

The American officers were a visible and constant presence on the High Street during the war years. The photograph below captured in 1942 depicts numerous American officers, dressed in full uniform, posing outside the Saracen’s Head. A large sign reading ‘American Red Cross Service Club’ dominates the main entrance, while an American flag flutters overhead.

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The Saracen’s Head Hotel during the Second World War when it was used as a club for the American Armed Forces. (SCN 552)

 The hostel also acted as an important social hub where American soldiers could relax and mix with the locals. In the photograph below numerous American officers can be seen relaxing inside the hostel, clearly enjoying the comfortable and even homely interiors.

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The Saracen’s Head provided hot meals for up to 300 American soldiers per day. (SCN 547)

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Over 150 women from the Chelmsford area volunteered their services at the new American Club. (SCN 548)

The American officers reportedly enjoyed their time in Chelmsford with a survey conducted by the Chronicle establishing that 32 out of 40 American soldiers very much liked Chelmsford, although all were excited to ultimately get back home. A young American Lieutenant is quoted:

“Your town is much bigger, and has more services than we expected… We have been very agreeably surprised. Many of our boys are now almost members of some Chelmsford families, who took the initiative in the early days of our arrival and made us so much at home… Most of us think that Chelmsford is a real swell place, with grand people in it.”

The ‘American Club’ came to represent a period of harmonious relations between Britain and the US. Over 150 young women in Chelmsford volunteered to work at the club and countless Chelmsford residents interacted with the American soldiers socially on a daily basis. Such was the legacy of these relations, both in Chelmsford and Essex as a whole, that the Essex Anglo-American Goodwill Association was created to foster continued relations and perhaps engage with Americans who were sent here as soldiers, but who might one day return as tourists.

By the end of July 1945, the ‘American Club’ closed, although the Saracen’s Head did not officially resume pre-war functionality until 1948. In January of that year the Essex Newsman warmly declared ‘Welcome back the Saracen’s Head!’ noting that after the long period of war service the hotel was at last able to come into its own again.

Many inns have disappeared from the High Street since the creation of the Walker map in 1591, but the Saracen’s Head continues to operate under the same name and from the same site as in the 16th century. This extraordinary achievement is a testament to the popularity of the premises in question. Nonetheless, the nature of the business has changed a great deal over time. Originally a resting point for weary travellers, the Saracen’s Head increasingly became a social establishment, providing an entertaining venue for visitors and residents alike. Today the Saracen’s Head is a popular social destination for a whole new generation of Chelmsford residents.

If you would like to find out more about this ancient building, try searching for the Saracen’s Head on Seax. Alternatively see Hilda Grieves’s detailed history of Chelmsford The Sleepers and The Shadows in the ERO Library.

Chelmsford Then and Now

IMG_6536 compressedWe were fortunate recently to have University of Essex student Ashleigh Hudson undertake a 10-week research project with us exploring the history of several properties along Chelmsford High Street. Ashleigh has used a range of sources, including documents, maps, and photographs, to highlight areas of continuity and change. Her research findings will be turned into a display, and also shared here in a series of blog posts, starting now…

 

A Royal Charter, granted in 1199 by King John, authorised a weekly market to be held within Chelmsford. A town grew around the market and by the 16th century, the basic shape of the high street had been firmly established. In fact the essential pattern of the High Street has not changed a great deal since the 16th century. A quick comparison of John Walker’s 1591 map of Chelmsford and a map of the high street today reveals that the fundamental shape of the town is very much the same.

John Walker's map of Chelmsford, 1591

Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591.

Internally, the High Street is quite different, with all of the timber buildings featured on the Walker Map long replaced by brick buildings of modern design.  Economic factors, social mobility and technological advancements have all impacted on the structural development of the High Street. Development has occurred sporadically, and according to the whims of a particular owner at a given time. By the latter half of the 20th century, the demand for retail and a growing population seemingly justified the demolition of vast portions of the town, which were deemed no longer fit for purpose. To many long-term residents of Chelmsford, modern development has completely obscured the town they knew and loved.

Chelmsford OS maps 1963 1974

Extract from the OS Map of 1963 (left) and 1974 (right). A comparison of the two maps reveals that by 1974 many of the individual properties situated on the west side of the high street have been demolished or consolidated to make way one large store, Marks and Spencer’s. Marks and Spencer’s currently occupies the former sites stretching from 62-66.

One of the biggest challenges facing Chelmsford High Street is a perceived lack of history; the belief that 20th century development has stripped away the heritage and integrity of the town. In actuality there is still a great deal of history hidden, often just above street level. Even where the ancient building has been demolished, the plots themselves have a story to tell. It is entirely possible for modern development to occur and coexist with areas of historic value; the challenge is building awareness and a sense of appreciation for the history behind the High Street.

King's Head Chelmsford | Essex Record Office

Photograph of the King’s Head shortly before it was demolished to make way for a branch of F.W Woolworth. The King’s Head had occupied the site since the 17th century and was a central part of town life throughout that period. Though the physical building has gone, the King’s Head is a large part of the history of 40-41 High Street, so much so that the carpark to the rear of the property was named in its honour.

Woolworth's Chelmsford 1930s | Essex Record Office

Photograph of F.W Woolworth in the 1930s. The photograph reveals an entirely new building sitting on the former site of the King’s Head.

 

Barclays Bank, 40-41 High Street Chelmsford

The former Woolworth’s building is currently occupied by Barclays Bank. A quick comparison of this photograph and the one above reveals a high level of continuity, just above street level.

The aim of this project is to construct a historical profile of selected sites across the high street using a range of different sources. The research gathered will be presented in a variety of ways to highlight areas of continuity and change. It is hoped that this project will encourage a greater awareness of the historic development of Chelmsford High Street and a stronger appreciation for the town itself.

The Essex Record Office has provided most of the primary material for this project. Supplementary material has been sourced from The Essex Newspaper Archive and Ancestry, both of which can be accessed in the ERO Searchroom. Hilda Grieve’s detailed history of Chelmsford The Sleepers and The Shadows was a fantastic starting point for much of the research, and a constant source of reference throughout. Look out for the Chelmsford Then and Now series of blog posts to be posted on the ERO blog shortly. Alternatively, why not check out our new HistoryPin page which contains a range of photographs of Chelmsford High Street through time.