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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Please book in advance on 033301 32500
Part of the Chelmsford Ideas Festival