Five favourite Chelmsford documents

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

We have two great events coming up in late October looking at the history of Chelmsford. On Wednesday 26 October we have a guided walk of the city centre based on John Walker’s fabulous 1591 map (see below if you have never seen this before), and on Saturday 29 October we are hosting Chelmsford Through Time, a pop-up display of historic maps and photographs, with a talk by Dr James Bettley on the post-war development of Chelmsford. You can find details of both of these on our events webpages.

In preparation for these events we have been sifting through some of the masses of material we have on Chelmsford history, and I thought I would share here five of my favourite Chelmsford items from our collections, that provide fascination snapshots into the past of our county town.

  1. John Walker’s map, 1591

Any round-up of significant documents of Chelmsford’s history must surely start with John Walker’s spectacular map, dating from 1591 (long-time readers of this blog will most like have come across this in some of our previous posts). It shows the town in exquisite detail, with each building individually drawn with its own doors, windows and chimneys. What’s more, a written survey that goes with the map tells us who was living in each of these properties at the time. It’s a very special window into the past that I never get tired of looking through.

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Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591, showing the town (D/DM P1)

  1. James Maylett execution

A grimmer choice, but I have always been interested in Tudor history and this snippet from the Chelmsford burial registers serves as a reminder of how brutal life could be. This burial entry dates from December 1542, and reads:

Jamys Maylette clerke Bachelor of Dyvinyti and p[ar]son of moche Lyes was drawen hanged and quarteryd on the market hyll for high treason on fryday the firste daye of December ao 1542.

That is to say, James Mallett, the parson of Great Lees, was hung, drawn and quartered in the market square at Chelmsford for high treason. 1 December that year was a Friday, market day, to ensure maximum witnesses for the gruesome spectacle.

Mallett had been a chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife whom he divorced in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Mallett had also been rector of Great Leighs for 28 years. His treasonous offence was to comment unfavourably on Henry’s policy of dissolving religious houses. His public execution must surely have been intended as a warning to other clergy not to pass comment on the king’s decisions.

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Extract from the Chelmsford parish registers showing the burial of James Mallett, December 1542 (D/P 94/1/4 image 26)

 

  1. Spalding photo of High Street, c.1869

This is one of the earliest surviving photographs of Chelmsford High Street, dating to about 1869. It shows a view looking north up the High Street towards Shire Hall. It was taken by Fred Spalding, Chelmsford’s first commercial photographer. Spalding’s son and grandson both became photographers too, and we have about 7,000 of their photographs at the ERO today. This one, like all of Spalding’s early photographs, was taken on a glass plate coated with chemicals; a challenging process to get right, especially in the open air.

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Photograph of Chelmsford High Street by Fred Spalding, c.1869 (D/F 269/1/3715)

  1. Photograph of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

If I could wave a magic wand over Chelmsford I would love to be able to bring back the Corn Exchange. This neo-Renaissance building was designed by Fred Chancellor in 1857, and sat on Tindal Square (Shire Hall is just out of frame on the right of this photo). It was demolished, along with the whole of the west side of Tindal Street, to make way for the High Chelmer redevelopment in 1969.

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Photograph by Fred Spalding of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

  1. Women at work in Marconi’s

This photograph is one of a series of images taken of Marconi’s Hall Street works, sometime between 1898 and 1912. At the start of the twentieth century, women were mostly expected to marry, have children, and stay at home. As an archetypal `new’ industry, the wireless industry involved complex assembly operations and `high-tech’ components requiring manual dexterity. The Marconi Hall Street works pioneered the early recruitment of a trained female workforce. Women are so often invisible or difficult to find in historical sources, so to find such striking photographs giving an insight into what their lives were like is always exciting. (You can see some more photos from this set on our Historypin page.)

Women at work in Marconi's Hall Street Factory, c.1902 (A11449)

Women at work in Marconi’s Hall Street Factory, c.1902 (A11449)

 Join us for Walking with Walker (Wednesday 26 October 2016) or Chelmsford Through Time (Saturday 29 October 2016) to delve deeper into Chelmsford’s history.

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)

1920s glamour at Hylands House

With the sounds of last weekend’s V Festival fading away, peace is returning to Hylands House in Widford, on the south-western edge of Chelmsford.

Today Hylands is also a popular wedding venue, and a reminder of just what a stunning location it is for such a celebration can be found in these photographs from nearly 100 years ago.

The wedding they show took place on 3rd August 1920, celebrating the marriage of Phyllis Gooch and Frank Parrish. Phyllis was the eldest daughter of Sir Daniel and Lady Gooch, who owned Hylands at the time. Taking place shortly after the end of the First World War this spectacular wedding, on what looks like a bright and sunny summer day, must have been a breath of fresh air as the country emerged from the privations of total war. Hylands itself had been used as a military hospital during the war, with the Gooch family assisting in its running.

The marriage ceremony took place at St Mary’s Church, Widford, which sits on the edge of the Hylands estate, so the bride would not have had far to travel. Phyllis was aged 20, and in the announcement of her engagement on 4 June 1920 in the Essex Chronicle as having ‘a charming vivacity, and during the war, with her parents, devoted a good deal of time for the benefit of those serving in the Forces.’

Her new husband Frank was aged 23. He was described as being ‘late 60th Rifles’, and his best man, Captain Alan Goodson, was also a military man. In the engagement announcement, Frank was described as:

The bridegroom-elect is a typical example of the young English manhood that sprang to the call to arms. Educated privately, he left school at the early age of 17 and joined the Inns of Court O.T.C. [Officer Training Corps] He quickly gained his commission and entered Sir Herbert Raphael’s battalion of the K.R.R.C. [King’s Royal Rifle Corps – Raphael’s battalion was set up at Gidea Park and was known as the Artists’ Rifles] On receiving his second star in 1916 he went to France, and in a daring raid on some German trenches he was taken prisoner. For nearly three years he was a prisoner of war, and was then among the fortunate ones who were kept in Holland, instead of being interned in Germany.

The photographs below were taken by our favourite local photographer, Fred Spalding. Not only are these photographs fascinating windows to the past, they are an extremely rare example of candid photography. Wedding photographs at this time, where they were taken, usually consist of perhaps one or two images, of the bride and goom leaving the church and a posed family portrait. The cameras of the time were cumbersome and heavy, and used glass plates covered in light-reactive chemicals to capture an image. They would usually have been used with a tripod, and required a long exposure to capture enough light to produce an image.

This is what makes the images below so unusual – candid, unposed photographs of wedding guests mingling, chatting, drinking champagne and eating wedding cake. These kind of shots would have been extremely challenging to take successfully, and Spalding must have pulled out all the stops to produce them. (There are a few exposures which went wrong, but we’ll forgive him for that.)

We think that Spalding may have used a camera such as a Graflex, which had a large. These kind of photographs would still have been challenging to take, but possible. Graflex manufactured the Speed Graphic camera, which was the press camera of choice for journalists in the first half of the 20th century.

Using the Chelmsford Chronicle description of the wedding from 6 August 1920 we can add some extra details to these stylish images:

The church had been beautifully decorated with graceful palms, lovely ferns, remarkably fine white hydrangeas, lilies etc., by Mr W. Heath, head gardener at hylands. There was a crowded congregation, which included friends of the family, the tenants of the estate, and village folk.

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A flag-bedecked and carpeted awning stretched from the roadway to the church door. The arrival of the guests was witnessed by a large concourse, and the whole village appeared to have donned their best for the occasion, the bride and her parents being very popular in the village.

 

The bride, who entered the church holding the arm of her father, looked radiant and very pretty. She was charmingly attired in white charmeuse with Brussels lace train, and carried a choice bouquet of orchids, carnations, and lily of the valley. Her train-bearer was her young sister, Daphne Gooch, who presented a delightful picture, dressed in pink georgette over maize colour, with tulle cap daintily wreathed with small roses.

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At the close of the service the organised played Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” and as the happy couple left the church the ringers rang a merry peal on the sweet-toned bells of the church.

 

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The bridesmaids were miss Cecile Eykyn and Miss margery Madge, who wore very becoming costume sof blue crepe-de-chine and picturesque gold mesh turbans; they also carried beautiful bouquets of pink carnations.

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‘Following the ceremony a reception was held at Hylands by Sir Daniel and Lady Gooch.’ – Phyllis greets her guests

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Guests on a lawn at Hylands, attended by a uniformed butler. Note the uniform wearing of coats despite the fact it was 3rd August.

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The bride and groom and guests, with elaborate wedding cake and staff serving drinks.

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The groom playfully places his top hat on one of the bridesmaid’s heads while the rest of the wedding party look on. The bestman, Captain Alan Goodson, had seved with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.

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‘Later Mr and Mrs Frank W. Parrish left for the honeymoon amid the hearty good wishes of the assembled guests.’ The couple left in a cream Crossley tourer, which was a wedding gift from the groom’s parents.

The wedding may well have had a bitterweet feel to it. Five years before their daughter’s wedding at St Mary’s Church, the Gooch family had buried their eldest son, Lancelot, there. He had died of influenza in Malta while serving with the Navy. Having lost his heir, Sir Daniel put the Hylands estate up for sale only a month after the wedding.

You can find out more about the techniques of early photography at our Heritage Open Day on Saturday 10 September 2016 – a celebration of creativity in the archives. Find out more here.

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.

A day in the life of Chelmsford Library: 5 April 2016

Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, You Are Hear Project Officer

What does a library sound like in 2016? A zoo, apparently.

 

Stereotypically, libraries are quiet places, where everyone must speak in hushed tones. They are places for reading and studying, solitary activities that create minimal noise and require a calm, peaceful environment. But is that still what is required of a twenty-first-century public library in the middle of a busy city?

Unfortunately the Essex Sound and Video Archive does not have many recordings of what libraries sounded like in the past. To rectify this for future generations, I spent a day in Chelmsford Library, capturing the different soundscapes over the course of the nine and a half hours when it was open to the public. All the recordings were made on Tuesday, 5 April 2016: a beautiful sunny day during the school Easter holidays. I was using only a handheld Zoom H1 digital recorder (recorded as wav files and later converted to mp3s).

I arrived at the Library shortly before it opened at 9:00 am. I expected to be the first one at the door. I expected to have plenty of time to establish myself in the best location before the general public started to trickle in and create noise. But there were already people waiting at the door to get in, mostly students intent on studying for looming exams. From the start of the day to the very end, I was never the sole member of the public inside.

By the time I had set up my equipment and started to record about half an hour later, the Library was already a busy hive of activity. Among other things, a member of staff agrees to put up a community notice: the Library serves as an information point about local activities.

 

At first, I sat on a chair placed halfway between the front doors and the issue desk, opposite the self-issue machines. Periodically you can hear people using the machines, returning books into the bins provided. But you can also hear the ding of staff issuing books at the desk, followed by the more traditional stamp as they put the due date in the book: here they are not insistent on people using the self-issue machines.

 

In the early afternoon, I worked upstairs. It being exam season, these study desks were almost all occupied. Though some of the noise travelled up, and a siren infiltrated the windows from outside, this area provided something of the peace and quiet traditionally associated with libraries, allowing people to focus on their work.

 

Later in the day, I worked by the public access computers. This area was even quieter: perhaps because it was later in the day and there were fewer people in the library, or perhaps because it was shielded from the general activity in the open area. Surprisingly, there were few technological noises, such as dings and beeps of error messages. There was only an occasional burst of typing: perhaps less than there would have been thirty years ago, when operating systems relied more on keyboards than mice? There is also the unmistakeable, clean sound of someone opening a fizzy drink: the library has an amenable policy of allowing people to drink inside, even by the computers: something my mother never allowed her IT students to do (nor her children at home).

 

Different activities took place over the course of the day. A read-aloud book group meets once a month to enjoy reading together, as well as discussing the text. They are currently working their way through Simon Armitage’s Walking Away, and, after reading for a time, they broke into a discussion of Armitage’s prose versus his poetry.

 

The Library’s sensory wall was also open in the morning, in the children’s section. This is actually a corner: two walls full of gadgets that produce different sounds and lights, touchy-feely parts with different textures, mirrors, and play-things. It was fun watching the children interact with each other and the wall.

 

Elsewhere in the children’s section, the Library proved that it is still about reading. Listen out for the sound of a woman reading a book aloud to a captive audience.

 

The Library provided so much enjoyment that for one boy it was a devastating blow when he was told that the back end of the children’s section had to be closed off for a private booking.

 

The different soundscapes of all these different activities come together into one great crescendo of noise when you stand on the stairs. Children, adults, machines working and playing – mixed with the conversations you can hear from County Hall offices that adjoin the Library – create a busy atmosphere. There are no librarians demanding quiet here.

 

The 1850 Public Libraries Act was the first piece of legislation granting town councils the right to use money raised through rates on the establishment and running of a public library facility. There were restrictions: it only applied to boroughs with a population of over 10,000, and they could only spend a set proportion of the rates on libraries (the legislation was extended to smaller towns and even parishes by the 1855 Public Libraries Act). Significantly, any such library would have to operate on the basis of free admission.

The use of library spaces has undeniably changed in the last 150 years, with a resulting impact on the sounds you hear inside. There is less whispering and rustling of pages. Libraries now offer more than books and study spaces: from public computers (increasingly important to combat digital exclusion) to social groups; meeting spaces to play rooms. We can speculate about how libraries will change in future, and how this will affect the soundscapes. Nevertheless, the service they provide remains true to the original purpose of the act: providing facilities ‘for the Instruction and Recreation of the People’.

The soundscape at Chelmsford Library did get gradually quieter over the course of the day. By the time I returned to the stairs at around 6:15 pm, the children had gone home, the students had packed up for the day, and the few people remaining were quickly checking out books and printing off documents before the Library shut. Staff went through the closing-up routine on computers and machines. It was noticeably quieter. That stereotypical hush had finally descended on the Library, but creating an aura of settling down to sleep and preparing for another busy day the next day.

 

Perhaps this one last clip is sufficient to demonstrate the valuable role that public libraries continue to play.

 

I echo this customer’s thanks: I am very grateful to the staff at the library for facilitating my recording visit.

Does your local library sound different? What about your college or university library, or an institutional or workplace library? We want to add the soundscapes you experience to our audio map of Essex Sounds, created as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded You Are Hear project. You can find instructions on our ‘contribute’ page, or get in touch to ask for more information.

You can listen to all of these clips, finishing with a more extended version of the recordings, on our Soundcloud channel here.

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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

A funny old game: 140 years of Essex cricket

Today, 14 January 2016, marks 140 years since Essex County Cricket Club was established at a public meeting at the Shire Hall in Chelmsford. There had been earlier county sides, but none had lasted very long, and the appetite was there to establish a county club on a proper footing. Adverts for the meeting such as this one appeared in the Chelmsford Chronicle inviting people to attend:

Chelmsford Chronicle 7 January 1876

It was agreed at this meeting to establish a county cricket club with its home ground at Brentwood. One Chronicle report following the meeting looked forward to hopefully beating neighbouring counties who had so far overtaken Essex in matters of cricket:

‘One would almost as soon think of seeking snow in June or roses in December, as of talking about cricket in January, and we are glad to think that the formation of a county cricket club for Essex while the frost and the short days are with us is an earnest of the enthusiasm which we shall see displayed in this fine old English game during the coming season. It must be confessed that for many years Essex has not held the place it ought to have held in the domain of cricket, for although it has just as many facilities for the game as any of its neighbours, nearly all the home counties have in this matter taken precedence of us. Nevertheless, we have some good hard-hitters in the county and some very pretty fielders as well, and now that a county club has been launched we hope to see past neglect atoned for, and, if it be possible, some good lickings administered to the far-famed cricketers of counties like Kent and Surrey. The new club has been formed under the best possible auspices, for among those who have called it into existence are such men as Mr Perry Watlington, Mr Round, MP, and Mr Lescher, of Brentwood, whose names ought to operate like a talisman upon the lovers of the willow in Essex.’

Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 21 January 1876

 Brentwood was selected for a number of reasons:

‘A capital ground, situate at Brentwood, has been offered to the club, on the most liberal terms, alike as to rent and privileges, by the Countess Tasker, and perhaps, although Brentwood is some dozen miles or so out of the centre of the county, it would have been hard to find a town more convenient on the whole, because, as Mr Lescher stated at Friday’s meeting in Chelmsford, it is near to London, it has capital hotel accommodation, it is close to a garrison from whence a band will be easily obtainable on match days, and the field offered is not only suitable and well fenced, but is within an easy walk of the railway station. Nor does this fortuitous combination of circumstances, manifold as it is, exhaust all the advantages of taking up a position for the club at Brentwood, for we gather that the sinews of war may be considerably recruited by letting off a portion of the field as a playground for the boys of Brentwood Grammar School, and that the situation of the ground is also favourable for letting off the grass, of which there are nine acres, for sheep feeding. The outlook, altogether, is cheering, but, if the club is to succeed, the cricketers of the county will, of course, have to put their shoulders fairly to the wheel which they will hardly refuse to do if they are real lovers of the game and care for its development in Essex.’

Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 21 January 1876

The first game took place on 5th and 6th May 1876 at Brentwood, announced in the Chronicle with promises of the building of a grand pavilion, and a part of the ground devoted to lawn tennis and croquet (for the ladies):

Chelmsford Chronicle 28 April 1876

Chelmsford Chronicle 28 April 1876

Brentwood was not to prove as convenient a location as had been hoped, and in 1885 the Club’s home ground was moved to Leyton. It moved again later to Chelmsford, where it remains today.

An advertisement for players in the Chelmsford Chronicle, 10 March 1876

An advertisement for players in the Chelmsford Chronicle, 10 March 1876

The first list of rules and members of Essex County Cricket Club, 1876

The first list of rules and members of Essex County Cricket Club, 1876

Early Essex sides were mostly composed of amateur players, with one or two professionals, such as cousins Frank and Joseph Silcock. Despite their professional status, Frank and Joseph both still had other occupations. Frank, born in 1838 in Sawbridgeworth, appears in most census returns as a sadler, with the exception of 1881 when he was described as a ‘Cricket Outfitter’. Joseph was a harness maker, and in 1871 he was also running a beer house. The name of his pub? The Cricketers.

One of the games from the earliest surviving scorebook, beginning in 1879. One of the Silcock brothers played in this game against Hertfordshire - he was bowled out for 17 (D/Z 82/2/1)

One of the games from the earliest surviving scorebook, beginning in 1879. One of the Silcock brothers played in this game against Hertfordshire – he was bowled out for 17 (D/Z 82/2/1)

Essex has had its fair share of eccentric results over the years. On more than one occasion they have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory; perhaps the best example was their game against Derbyshire on 19-20 June 1904. Essex scored 597 in their first innings, but went on to lose by 9 wickets. 343 of those runs belonged to Percy Perrin. His innings included 68 fours, and remains the highest score by an Essex player.

Another Essex record was scored by John “Johnny” William Henry Tyler Douglas in another game against Derbyshire, this time in 1921. In this extraordinary game, Douglas saved the Essex innings with S.N. Hare, who together put on a 9th wicket partnership of 251. Douglas himself scored 210 – his highest batting score – and also got his best bowling figures – 9-47 and 2-0. Essex won the game by an innings and 74 runs.

Douglas was a significant figure in the development of Essex cricket. He first played for the county in 1902, then remained there from 1904. He was captain from 1911-1928. Seven times he took over 100 wickets in a season, with a best of 147 in 1920. He also played for England (and captained them), and an Olympic boxer. He was killed in a shipwreck off the coast of Denmark in 1930.

Photograph of the Essex and Somerset teams in 1926, by Fred Spalding (D/F 269/1/4691)

Photograph of the Essex and Somerset teams in 1926, by Fred Spalding (D/F 269/1/4691)

We shouldn't forget the social side of cricket - this meal as part of a game between Essex and Oxford University in 1927 was complete with uniformed servants (D/F 269/1/4744)

We shouldn’t forget the social side of cricket – this meal as part of a game between Essex and Oxford University in 1927 was complete with uniformed servants (D/F 269/1/4744)

May and June 1934 were a rollercoaster ride for Essex. A massive loss to Kent by an innings and 192 runs was followed immediately by a win against Surrey – by an innings and 192 runs.

In the 1930s, Yorkshire were the team to beat. In 1935 they lost just one game in the County Championship, and that was to Essex. The two teams played at Huddersfield on 31 July-1 August. Essex bowled out Yorkshire for 31, and went on to win by an innings and 204 runs. (Let’s not mention the game in 1932 when Yorkshire scored 555, then dismissed Essex for 78 and 164, winning by an innings and 313 runs.)

We wish our county team luck with the new season as it begins in a few weeks.

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.