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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

The essentials of archery

Today’s post from our medieval specialist Katharine Schofield is all about the importance of archery in medieval England. Join us to find out more with the English Warbow Society at Essex at Agincourt on Saturday 31 October 2015. This is a joint event with the Essex branch of the Historical Association, and all the details can be found here.

The use of longbows by the English archers was perhaps one of the most significant developments of the Hundred Years’ War and indeed of medieval warfare.  The longbow had a decisive and devastating effect in the English victories at the Battles of Sluys in 1340, Crécy in 1346, Poitiers in 1356 and Agincourt in 1415.

Ian Coote English Warbow Society

Ian Coote of the English Warbow Society using a traditional English warbow. See replicas of period bows and arrows and hear more about how significant their role was in the Hundred Years’ War at Essex at Agincourt
Photo: Chris Morris

The longbow originated in Wales and was used against the English in the 12th and 13th century invasions.  A 12th century chronicler Gerald of Wales described how an Englishman was struck by a Welsh archer:

It went right through his thigh, high up, where it was protected inside and outside the leg by his iron cuirasses and then through the seat of his leather tunic; next it penetrated … the saddle … seat; and finally it lodged in his horse, driving so deep that it killed the animal.

The deadly effect of the longbow meant that it was soon incorporated into English forces.  Longbows ranged in size from 5 to 7 feet [1.5 – 2.1 metres] and were usually made from yew, but wood from ash, elm and other trees could also be used.  An archer could shoot over half a mile and could knock a knight off his horse.  Archers could fire up to 12 arrows a minute, but would usually average about six arrows.  The arrows were around 3 feet long with a tip designed to break through chain mail.

Archery was a necessary skill for all Englishmen from the 13th to the 16th century, when it was gradually superseded by more modern weapons of war.  In 1181 the Assize of Arms did not mention bows and arrows, although a law of Henry I (1100-1135) stated that if a man was accidentally killed by an archer at practice then the archer could not be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter.

Archery practice remained a source of potential danger.  The Essex Assizes held in August 1579 recorded the indictment of John Pollyn of Little Oakley who on 28 June with other young men at the butts in the parish had shot Thomas Downes, aged 16, in the left eye leaving him with a wound 3 inches deep of which he died the following day.  In 1581 an inquest at Barking on Henry Fawcett, aged 19 recorded that a fisherman John Redforde accidentally shot Fawcett on the right side of his head to the depth of an inch while he was standing near the butts.  Fawcett died from the wound a week later.  The cause of death was recorded as ‘By misfortune’ [misadventure].

In 1252 another Assize of Arms was issued and this required every able-bodied man aged 15-60 to equip themselves with bows and arrows.  This was not formally repealed until 1623/4.  A declaration of 1363 acknowledged the successes that the longbow had brought:

Whereas the people of our realm, rich and poor alike, were accustomed formerly in their games to practise archery – whence by God’s help, it is well known that high honour and profit came to our realm, and no small advantage to ourselves in our warlike enterprises … that every man in the same country, if he be able-bodied, shall, upon holidays, make use, in his games, of bows and arrows … and so learn and practise archery.

In 1388 an Act required that all servants and labourers were to have bows and practice on Sundays and holidays.

By the 15th century archery was still considered to be of such importance that legislation was introduced to ensure that the equipment was readily available.  An Act of 1472 required every merchant importing goods to bring in four bowstaves for every ton; in 1483-1484 ten ‘good’ bowstaves had to be imported for every butt of wine.  Customs duty was removed from bow staves longer than 6 feet in 1503.  Maximum prices for bows made of yew were fixed at 3s. 4d. in 1482/3.

In 1542 an Act of Parliament laid down rules for regular practice.  It established a minimum distance of 220 yards (more than 200 metres) that men over 24 should be able to hit the target.  It also prohibited houses for ‘unlawful games’ which prevented practice and the Quarter Sessions rolls for Essex record many prosecutions.

In 1574 the records of Colchester Borough contain a copy of an order to the bailiffs by Thomas Worrell, fletcher, and John Gamage, bowyer, who had been appointed as deputies by the Essex Commissioners.  Lists were required of every householder, children and manservant aged 7-60 and they were required to muster before Worrell and Gamage on 5 May 1574 ‘with such bows and arrows as they ought to use’.  Colchester’s records notes the letter ‘was not received until 10 p.m. on 3 May and therefore the muster was not carried out’ (D/B 5 R7 f.183r. – 184r.].

Mark Stretton of the English Warbow Society making arrow heads

Mark Stretton of the English Warbow Society making arrow heads

Every town and village would have had archery butts for practice.  Butt Lane in Colchester is said to take its name from the fact that it led to the town’s butts.  In Chelmsford the butts were located in Butt Field off Duke Street in the area covered today by Townfield Street and the railway station.  As late as 1622 the chamberlains’ accounts for Maldon record the expenses in making new butts for the borough in Butt Lane (D/B 3/3/292).

Extract from John Walker's 1591 map of Chelmsford showing Butt Field (D/DM P1)

Extract from John Walker’s 1591 map of Chelmsford showing Butt Field (D/DM P1)

Extract from John Walker's map of Moulsham, 1591, showing Moulsham Butt Field (D/DM P2)

Extract from John Walker’s map of Moulsham, 1591, showing Moulsham Butt Field (D/DM P2)

Maldon chamberlains' accounts D/B 3/3/292

Extract from chamberlains’ accounts for Maldon recording the expenses of making new butts for the borough in Butt Lane, 1622 (D/B 3/3/292)

The records of Quarter Sessions for Essex have many examples in the 1560s, 1570s and 1580s of parishes throughout the county being reported for the butts being out of repair.  Widford was reported at the Michaelmas 1572, Easter 1574, Epiphany and Midsummer 1575 and Easter 1584 Sessions, on the last occasion they had until Midsummer to repair them or pay a 5s. fine.  Little Waltham was reported in 1572 and 1577 and Willingale Spain in 1574, 1575 and 1580.  The lord of the manor and tenants of Grays Thurrock were presented in 1580 for ‘lack of butts in a convenient place’.

It was quite common for parishes to be given until the next Sessions (three months) to repair the butts or face a fine.  Aveley faced a fine of 13s. 4d. in 1566, North Ockendon a fine of 6s. 8d. in 1576 and Little Canfield 12d. in 1580.  In Danbury in 1574 it was reported that the butts were in decay and that Ambrose Madson had taken down one for his gaming there.  While failure to maintain and repair the butts was commonly the issue, it was reported to the Michaelmas Sessions of 1568 by the jury for the Hinckford Hundred in the north of Essex that ‘our buttes be in good reprassyons’ (Q/SR 27/16)

Given the requirements of the law, it is not surprising that there are a number of wills with bequests of bows and arrows.  In 1529 John Archare of Maldon, currier bequeathed his best, second and third bows (D/ABW 1/5); and in 1588, the year of the Spanish Armada, George Ardlye of Weeley, husbandman left his bow and arrows to his son Robert.  As late as 1612 Richard Crowe, a miller of Springfield left his bow and arrows to John Gibbs of Great Baddow.

Will of George Ardlye of Weeley (D/ABW 2/75)

Extract from will of George Ardlye of Weeley, leaving his bow and arrows to his son Robert, 1588 (D/ABW 2/75)

By the end of the 16th century, although Quarter Sessions records have many examples of parishes and manors being prosecuted for their failure to maintain their butts, the longbow was gradually being replaced with firearms.

To find out more about medieval archery from the English Warbow Society, join us on 31 October 2015 for Essex at Agincourt; all the details of the day are here.

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

Document of the Month, October 2015: Photograph of West Indies Cricket Team, 1939

The West Indies cricket team played Essex at Chelmsford during the Essex Cricket Festival on 31 May – 2 June 1939. The West Indies won by 2 wickets.

West Indies cricket team 1939

Back row: C. B. Clarke, G. Gomez, [? E.A.V. Williams,? J.E.Q. Sealy], A. V. Avery
Middle row: [? J.B. Stollmeyer], R.M. Taylor, Ray Smith, B. K. Castor, [? H.P. Bayley], T. Wade, [unknown], Peter Smith
Front row: G. Headley, J. Dennis, [? I. Barrow], J. O’Connor, [? R.S. Grant], J.W.A. Stephenson, [? J.H. Cameron, M. Nichols, L. Constantine, L. Eastman, [? E.A. Martindale]
[Identified by Ray Illingworth and Peter Edwards of Essex County Cricket Club, October 1998]

This photograph was taken by the famous Chelmsford photographer Fred Spalding, himself a keen cricketer. He rarely included the names of players in teams but in this case the players have been identified as far as possible.  They include George Headley (far left on front row) and Learie (later Sir Learie) Constantine  (3rd from right on front row).

Headley scored 116 against Essex and went on to score two more centuries against England during the 1939 season.

During Essex’ first innings Constantine took 7 wickets for 49 runs in 10 overs and during their second innings, 6 wickets for 42 runs. Constantine had toured England with the West Indies cricket team in 1928 (their first ever tour), scoring 130 runs in 90 minutes against Essex.  He continued his career as a cricketer playing for both the West Indies and for teams in Lancashire.  He later became a barrister and Trinidad’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and was influential in the passing of the Race Relations Act.

The photograph will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout October 2015.

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.