Chelmsford Then and Now: layers of history

In the twelfth and final post from our Chelmsford Then and Now project, student researcher Ashleigh Hudson explains how during her research project we used maps to establish areas of continuity and change in the High Street of our county town.

A key objective of the Chelmsford Then and Now project was to establish what has changed and what has stayed the same over time in the centre of our county town. We are lucky that Chelmsford has been mapped and re-mapped several times over the centuries, enabling us to make comparisons over time, and to find traces of the medieval town in today’s High Street, even though no buildings from that period survive. In this post we will show how we have used maps in this project to look at the detailed history of specific properties.

The earliest known map of Chelmsford was drawn up by John Walker in 1591. The shape of Chelmsford High Street, as depicted on the Walker map, is remarkably similar to the shape of the high street today; in fact the basic make-up of the town has not changed in nearly five hundred years. Internally, the shape and size of individual properties has varied significantly over time, reflecting changing economic, demographic and technological trends. The 20th century in particular saw sweeping changes to areas of the high street. As the town’s population increased, the demand for more retail spaces grew, and the arrival of department stores facilitated the absorption of many of the smaller businesses.

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

Observing the sites of 61-66 High Street on several Ordnance Survey maps, it was immediately obvious that a number of properties had been consolidated, demolished or rebuilt over time. Using the first edition OS map of 1876 as a starting point, it is clear that large, department sized stores were not yet a standard feature of the high street. Based on this map, we can see that properties in this section of the high street were small and packed closely together, perhaps the result of centuries of uncoordinated and sporadic development.

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Extract from the 1876 first edition OS map, from the west side of the high street. 61 High Street is occupied by the Queen’s Head inn. Adjacent to the Queen’s Head sits a narrow passageway, which leads from the high street into the yard. To the north of the passageway is the site of 62 High Street and adjacent to that, a number of small, individual properties, all of which would ultimately form part of the Marks and Spencer’s site in the 1970s.

For a more direct comparison, we took photographs of the OS maps from 1963 and 1974 and uploaded them into Photoshop.

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Extract from the OS Maps of 1963 and 1974 showing the sites of 61-66 High Street. The 1963 extract has been highlighted in red, while the 1974 extract has been highlighted in blue.

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Extract from the OS Maps of 1963 and 1974 showing the sites of 61-66 High Street. The 1963 extract has been highlighted in red, while the 1974 extract has been highlighted in blue.

From there we layered the maps, drawing around the border of each property using different colours to make it easy to differentiate between them. Areas where the borders had shifted were then clearly visible, indicating where and when development had occurred.

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Extract from the 1963 map highlighted in red, layered with the extract from the 1974 map highlighted in blue.

At first glance, the OS map of 1963 appears remarkably similar to the OS map of 1876. There are still plenty of small properties, packed closely together. The Queen’s Head is still present, identifiable by the ‘PH’ for public house. The property retains its distinctive shape and the narrow passageway, sandwiched between 61 and 62, is still visible.

The biggest and most obvious changes have occurred by the OS map of 1974. The 1974 map presents a significantly changed section of the high street. The former Queen’s Head building has been demolished, and in its place a uniform, rectangular building has been erected. The narrow passageway has been built over and now features as part of the sites of 61 and 62. The sites of 62-66 now form one large property, occupied by Marks and Spencer’s.

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Photograph of the west side of the high street including the Queen’s Head in the centre and several properties to the right that would eventually form part of the Marks and Spencer’s site. Photo by Fred Spalding.

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A current image of the west side of the high street.

This map comparison perfectly illustrates how the town was transforming in the 20th century to accommodate modern development. In many cases the new buildings replaced small, dated properties which were considered no longer fit for purpose. The imperfect, quirky buildings visible in the Spalding photograph above were replaced by larger modern buildings built over several of the historic plots. Whether these new, spacious retail establishments improved the overall appearance of the high street is open to debate.

If you would like to use historic maps for a project of your own, do come and visit our Searchroom where staff will be happy to help you get started.

And that’s all from the Chelmsford Then and Now project! We will shortly be publishing the results of a similar project undertaken in Colchester so if you like old maps and historic photos there are more treasures to come.

Leigh-on-Sea on the Map

“a pretty little town, well stock’d with lusty seamen”

This vivid description of Leigh-on-Sea comes from William Camden’s Britannia, a survey of Great Britain and Ireland published in 1586.

We are diving in to Leigh’s history at the moment ahead of Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017, when we will be displaying a selection of our historical maps and images of Leigh at The Forum in Southend, showing its transformation as development spread ever further out from the small old town area that hugs the Thames shoreline.

Here we share some sneak peaks at some of the maps and postcards we will be bringing with us to display.

Leigh tithe map, 1847 (D/CT 217B)

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Extract from the Leigh tithe map, 1847 (D/CT 217B)

The centrepiece of our display will be Leigh’s tithe map, which dates from 1847. The map shows Leigh just before the coming of the railway, when it was still a small fishing town or village.

Tithe maps are brilliant sources for researchers interested in the history of their family or a particular property or place, as each plot on the map is numbered. This is because the maps are accompanied by a list of who owned and occupied each property, as they were used to work out how much tax people should pay based on the value of their property. The system of taxing people according to the value of their property replaced a much more cumbersome medieval system of people rendering a tenth of their agricultural produce to the church.

Railway map, c.1854 (D/DS 177/1)

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This 1854 map shows the route the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway was to take through Leigh, cutting through a swathe of existing buildings (D/DS 177/1)

Soon after the tithe map was prepared in 1847, another map of Leigh was produced which shows us the dramatic transformation the old town was about to undergo. This map was prepared in connection with the building of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway, and shows the somewhat brutal course the track was to take through the town.

Although each building is numbered and presumably linked to a schedule giving names of owners of the properties through which the railway would pass, the whereabouts of the schedule is unknown. The map shows all the familiar Leigh landmarks, including the Bell and Ship inns, the Billet and Smack public houses, the Coast Guard House, the Custom House and individual wharfs and quays.

The building of the railway sliced the old town in two, marooning the High Street on a thin strip of land along the edge of the Thames. Victorian progress was rarely halted by the presence of old buildings that today we would consider precious, and in Leigh the presence of steep cliffs meant there was no alternative but to drive the railway through the town.

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Leigh-on-Sea High Street in the late nineteenth century, in the part of the old town which was sandwiched between the new railway line (behind the buildings on the left) and the Thames (behind the buildings on the right). The Crooked Billet Inn still survives, as do several of the buildings shown in this picture. (ERO postcard collection, Leigh-on-Sea no. 38)

Ordnance Survey maps

The best maps which show the development of Leigh from 1890 to 1939 are the large scale ordnance survey maps of the “County Series”.

These were made in three waves – the first edition, made in the 1870s, the second edition, from the 1890s, and the New Series, made between the 1920s and 1940s. The county was entirely mapped in two different scales, 6” to the mile and the fabulously detailed 25” to the mile.

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Later copy (1964) of the first edition Ordnance Survey map of Leigh which was made in 1873 (MAP/CM/142/1)

Unfortunately we do not have an original 25” to the mile first edition OS map showing Leigh, but we will be bringing a well-known copy of it that was made later. The original map dated from 1873, and we can see that by this time Leigh remained a fairly small place, although now with a railway running through its centre. We can see that adjustments had been made to existing buildings to accommodate the railway, and that a ‘New Road’ had been built alongside it.

Amongst the new buildings shown are the Smack pub in a new building across the street from its original site (which by this time was underneath the railway line) and, on the hill below the church, a new National School which was built in 1852.

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Ordnance Survey map of Leigh, 1897

Leigh was resurveyed in 1897 for the second edition of the County Series. By this time, much of the open land around the old town had been divided up to be sold as plots, and new streets had been planned out, with pockets of building underway. This sort of development is seen frequently in our maps of Victorian Essex. Plots were either bought by individuals who then built their own houses, or purchased by developers who built who rows or streets of houses. Some plots were reserved for shops or hotels.

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Ordnance Survey map of Leigh, 1922

The next major survey of Leigh took place in 1922, and the map which resulted shows a fairly spectacular explosion of new housing that had been built since the 1890s. The town we see in this map resembles much more closely the town we can see today. Beside the railway, a tramline had been built running along The Broadway from St Clement’s church, past the Grand Hotel, and then along Leigh Road into Southend.

 

Southend bomb map, 1945 (D/BC 1/4/3/3)

The most recent map which will be on display was made soon after the end of the Second World War, and shows where bombs and other missiles were dropped on Southend, including Leigh, during air raids. If you live in Leigh, was your house near one of these bomb sites?

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Map showing where bombs fell on the Southend district during the Second World War, 1945 (D/BC 1/4/3/3)

For more historic maps and images of Leigh, join us at Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017, 10.00am-3.00pm, at The Forum, Elmer Square, Southend-on-Sea, SS1 1NE. Entry is free, but if you could make a donation to support our work we would really appreciate it.

Going round in circles

Hopefully when using a map to navigate, you don’t end up going round in circles.

This unusual map, however, goes round in one big circle, showing the area 25 miles around London.

It is currently on display in the ERO Searchroom alongside the oldest map of Essex and these miniature maps of Essex that we have recently written about to celebrate the launch of a new book on the historic maps of our county. Printed Maps of Essex from 1576 is being launched on Saturday 21 May 2016 at Saffron Walden – you can find all the details of the event below.

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The map dates from 1819, and includes a portion of Essex which begins with Sheering in the north-west of the county, before the circular edge sweeps down past the Rodings and Willingale, down to Ingatestone, Billericay and Laindon, before finally passing Vange and Stanford-le-Hope and then reaching the Thames.

The map shows main roads and some secondary roads, parks and most villages. It also defines the extent of the ‘Penny Post’ by a faint dotted line. In Essex the Penny Post line is drawn through Chingford and Woodford, not quite reaching Romford.

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The map was made at a time when the county of Essex was much bigger than it is today, extending as far as the River Lea and including areas such as Stratford, West Ham, Walthamstow and Barking and Dagenham.

If you’re a fan of maps, join us for the launch of Printed Maps of Essex on Saturday 21 May 2016, which will include a talk from the author, map expert Peter Walker, and a display of maps included in the book.

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Book launch: Printed Maps of Essex from 1576

Human beings have a long history of making maps to visualise and understand the world around them. Our ancient county is represented in many maps from the sixteenth century onwards, both printed and manuscript, a large number of which can be found today at the Essex Record Office. This new well-illustrated volume by map expert Peter Walker, Printed Maps of Essex from 1576, comprehensively lists and evaluates the ERO’s printed map collection and will be an invaluable guide to all those interested in Essex history. Join us to launch the book with a talk from Peter on the maps and the people who made them, and a display of some of the maps themselves. Copies of the book will be available to purchase on the day at a discounted price.

Printed Maps of Essex from 1576 is being published by the Friends of Historic Essex, the charity which supports the Essex Record Office.

Saturday 21 May, 11.00am-2.00pm (talk at 11.30am, display and book sale the rest of the time)

Saffron Walden Town Hall, Market Street, Saffron Walden, CB10 1HZ

Free, no need to book

Miniature maps

When we recently talked about our oldest map of Essex (from 1576) we mentioned how used to we are today to having maps on our phones in our pockets.

Today we are continuing the pocket-sized theme, nineteenth-century style. These miniature maps are amongst those included in a new book, Printed Maps of Essex from 1576, which we are launching on 21 May 2016.

These very small maps were not intended to help people find their way, but rather as illustrations. They are an example of the engraver’s art in making detailed engravings at such a small scale.

These maps are currently part of a small display in the ERO Searchroom, so do have a look next time you visit.

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Printed map of Essex by William Green, 1804 (MAP/CM/55/1)

This map is drawn with West to the top of the page, so that it fits well onto the paper. Only after the publication of Ordnance Survey maps from 1805 did it become the convention to put North at the top of the page. It shows only main roads, four parks, towns and a few villages. The map was published in Green’s book The Picture of England Illustrated with correct colour’d Maps of the several Counties, 1804.

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A Map of the County of Essex by George Wise, 1807 (MAP/CM/59/1)

This tiny circular map shows towns and connecting roads, with distances. The Wise family were potters in Kent, and this map was possibly made as an amusement for their clients.

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Printed map of Essex by Robert Miller, 1810 (MAP/CM/60/1)

This map of Essex is Plate 7 from Miller’s New Miniature Atlas of 1810, a small-scale atlas at a low price. It was also used in a children’s atlas, Reuben Ramble’s Travels through the Counties of England.

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Printed map of Essex and Kent by A M Perrot, 1823 (MAP/CM/69/1)

This miniature map includes 10 Essex towns, plus major rivers but no roads. The map itself is almost swamped by the decorative border featuring wheat, foliage, fish, waterfall, cannon, a telescope, and other objects. It is from a French guide to England of 1823.

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If you’re a map fan, do join us for the launch of Printed Maps of Essex from 1576 in Saffron Walden on Saturday 21 May 2016 – you can find all the details of the event here.

Essex’s oldest map

Today we are used to being able to carry a map of the world on a smartphone in our pocket, being able to search for anywhere that takes our fancy, to zoom in on it and see not only maps but aerial photographs and streetviews.

This is all very easy to take for granted today, but for our ancestors making a map was an expensive and specialist process. Yet human beings have a long history of making maps to visualise and understand the world around them, and we are lucky to have maps of Essex dating back to the sixteenth century.

A new book, Printed Maps of Essex from 1576, by map expert Peter Walker, brings together all the printed county maps in our collection for the first time. Packed with full-colour illustrations it will be a wonderful companion for any historian of our county. The book is being officially launched at a special event in Saffron Walden on Saturday 21 May 2016; see our events page for details.

Since we like maps so much, we thought we would share a few of our more unusual county maps with you here in the run-up to the book launch, starting with the oldest map of Essex.

Saxton map Essex 1576

This map was made by Christopher Saxton (c.1540-c.1610) in 1576. It would have been printed on a printing press using an engraved copper plate, and then hand-coloured afterwards.

Saxton was the first person to produce an atlas of British counties, in 1579, based on his 7 year survey of the 52 counties of England and Wales. Some counties are combined on sheets, but Essex has its own page. The map was commissioned when fears of a Spanish invasion of England were rife. This may be why the map concentrates on river access to the county, and no roads are shown.

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The map includes illustrations of sailing ships, such as this one off the north coast of the county

The map shows all the towns and villages and a few of the larger mansions with their names; only a small number of parks and bridges are named. Certain estates, such as Hatfield Forest, are shown as enclosed, or impaled, telling us that it was private land, belonging to somebody of significant wealth.

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Few other topographical details are marked except rivers, woodland and Shell Haven, the blockhouse on Mersea Island, and the miniature but unnamed drawing of Stanway beacon.

The title is on an elaborate cartouche surmounted by the Royal Arms of Queen Elizabeth I, and below are the quartered arms of Thomas Seckford, Master of the Requests to the Queen, Saxton’s patron.

Cartouch Saxton map

The cartouche gives the map’s title: Essexiae Comitat’ Nova vera ac absoluta descriptio Ano Dni 1576 [A new true and complete description of the County of Essex Anno Domini 1576]

Saxton’s map will be on display in the Searchroom throughout spring 2016, and for more maps come along to the launch of Printed Maps of Essex from 1576 on Saturday 21 May.

 

What Essex sounds like: soft launch of Essex Sounds audio map

For the past six months, the You Are Hear project team at the Essex Sound and Video Archive has been asking you what Essex sounds like. Whether stopping innocent passers-by in shopping centres, appealing to the public through newspapers, or calling for suggestions through e-bulletins, we have been asking you what noises you hear in your daily routine, what noises you associate with the county, what sounds represent your community.

Now we have the answer! Well, to a point. We have compiled the results with our Sound Recordist, Stuart Bowditch. Based on your suggestions, he has been venturing into the far corners of the county, braving all weathers, to capture those soundscapes. And now you can hear some of the results on our audio map, Essex Sounds.

Horse riding through busy Maldon street, 1 Jan 2016

The hunt parade through Maldon, 1 January 2016. Image courtesy of Stuart Bowditch.

From church bells to firework displays; the annual New Year’s hunt parade through Maldon to the sounding of ship’s horns at Tilbury to bring in the New Year (yes, he managed to capture both, and more besides that day!): see if your suggestion of an Essex sound has been recorded.

In our public surveys about Essex sounds, many people commented on a perceived difference between the north and south of the county. Commonly, people considered the southern part of the county to contain more industrial noises, more hustle and bustle, more crowded atmospheres: with more people speaking with a London or ‘TOWIE accent’. The north was depicted as quieter, more rural, where the people are more likely to speak with a ‘traditional’ Essex accent.

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Peaceful Dedham Vale in north Essex. Image courtesy of Visit Essex.

Is this an accurate depiction of the county, or is it over-generalised? Why not consult the Essex Sounds map to see if it reflects this north-south divide?

The map also enables comparisons between old and new sounds of the county. We have uploaded some historic recordings from the Archive. For example, you can listen to an auction at the Chelmsford cattle market in the 1950s.

You can then compare it with a recording made on that site in 2015, capturing the busy atmosphere of High Chelmer on a Saturday. Try it out here.

If your sound suggestion has not yet been added, do not fear: our site is still a work in progress. Stuart will continue to record Essex sounds over the next few months, gradually uploading them to the audio map. We will also keep adding historic recordings as they are digitised, as part of this Heritage Lottery Funded project. We are also happy to continue to receive suggestions of places and events to record, though we will not be able to include everything within the scope of the project.

In the meantime, why not contribute your own recording to the site? We want the map to fully reflect your experiences of what Essex sounds like. You will find instructions on the ‘contribute’ page, but please get in touch if you have any questions.

We would love to hear any feedback you have, so that we can continue to improve the site and pass on your comments to our website developers, Community Sites. Please be gentle with us, though: we are still in the development phase! We would also be grateful for any volunteers to test the map more extensively, particularly if you are using accessibility software. Please get in touch to find out more.

For more information about the You Are Hear project, you can visit the project site.

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In search of Messing Hall: an adventure in old maps

We are in the midst of preparing for our next ‘on the map’ outreach event, which will take place in the village of Messing near Tiptree on Saturday 19 March 2016. We have done a few of these events in different locations around the county, taking a timeline of maps from our collection out for a special pop-up display.

One of the maps we will be taking with us on this occasion is this 1650 map showing the lands of Messing Hall (D/DH P1).

Map of Messing, 1650

‘A survey of all the lands appertaineing to Messing Hall in the county of Essex with the number of acres the wch was surveyed by William Bacon and Benedict Coule’ (D/DH P1)

Messing Hall itself is shown to the east of the village centre as a very grand moated building, with a farm to the north.

The map is part of a collection of papers relating to the Luckyn family of Messing. Sir Capel Luckyn acquired the estate of Messing Hall in 1650, so presumably he commissioned the map as he took possession of his grand new property.

The map makes an immediate visual impact, but on closer inspection bears only a passing resemblance to the actual layout of Messing – cue ERO staff members scratching their heads and poring over maps, aerial photos and any histories of Messing we could get our hands on, trying to work out what the 1650 map actually showed us.

Trying to work it all out

Trying to work it all out

Ordnance Survey map of Messing, 1874

The 6″ : 1 mile Ordnance Survey map of 1874

To begin with it all seemed a confusing mess. While the 1650 map shows the grand Messing Hall on a road heading east out of the village, the Ordnance Survey map of 1874 shows that there is no such road, leaving us with a mystery to solve – where was Messing Hall? The representation of it on the map no doubt blows the size of the house out of all proportion, but clearly an important property existed and we could find no obvious sign of it on any later maps.

There were two main candidates for the site – Harborough Hall, to the south of the village, and Messing Lodge, to the north.

Our sights first landed on Harborough Hall – it was the closest substantial property to the village, and sits on a bend in the road, as does the property on the 1650 map. We read that the manors of Messing and Harboroughs merged in the 1400s, so perhaps the names had been used interchangeably.

Messing Lodge, meanwhile, just seemed too far from the village and too far north. Could the 1650 map really be that inaccurate?

We hunted for anything that would help us tie up the things represented on the 1650 map with more accurate later maps.

Our first breakthrough came from matching up Oynes Brook, shown on the 1650 map, with Domsey Brook shown on later maps. Once we had found the brook, we were able to match up the forked road shown in the 1650 map to the north of Messing Hall with the fork shown in later maps above Messing Lodge. Although not quite the same shape, on both maps one fork crosses the brook (and stops short just after it), and the other fork becomes ‘Easthop way’ or ‘Easthorpe Road’. There are also water features on the 1897 map which could relate to the moat shown in 1650.

Portion of the 1650 map showing Messing Hall compared with 1897 map showing Messing Lodge

Portion of the 1650 map showing Messing Hall compared with 1897 map showing Messing Lodge

This was pleasing evidence, and was further supported by some of the field names surrounding the property.

Fields named 'Charcums' near Messing Hall

Fields named ‘Charcums’ near Messing Hall

The 1650 map shows ‘Great Charcums’, ‘Charcum meadow’ and ‘Charcums spring’ to on the opposite side of the road to Messing Hall. On the tithe map of 1839, fields near to Messing Lodge are known as ‘Little Chalkhams’ and ‘Great Chalkhams’.

With the evidence of the brook, the fork in the road, the road to Easthorpe and the Charcum/Chalkhams field names, we think we have a satisfactory answer to our mystery, and we can put Messing Hall back on the map.

One of the joys of research is problem solving, and the excitement when things finally fall into place, especially when you can share that joy with fellow researchers.

Fortunately for the 1650 map, what lacks in accuracy it makes up for in exuberance. Come along to see it for yourself at Messing about with Maps on Saturday 19 March at Messing Village Hall.


Messing about with Maps

A chance to see historic maps of Messing kept at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford, including a hand-drawn map from 1650 and the Messing tithe map of 1839.

Saturday 19 March, 10.30am-3.00pm

Messing Village Hall, The Street, Messing, CO5 9TN

Just drop in, suggested donation of £2.00

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.

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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.

(9) Current Image

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

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

 

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

John Walker's map of Chelmsford, 1591

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

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

Chelmsford OS maps 1963 1974

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

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

King's Head Chelmsford | Essex Record Office

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

Woolworth's Chelmsford 1930s | Essex Record Office

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

 

Barclays Bank, 40-41 High Street Chelmsford

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

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

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

Finding our way through the National Grid

 Lawrence Barker, Archivist

The ERO has a fine collection of late 19th and early 20th century large scale OS maps (1:2500 County Series) available for public consultation in the Searchroom.  However, we wanted to extend the collection to include later 20th century National Grid maps of the same scale. Some mid-Essex maps are available to view but many, among various collections which have been donated to the ERO over the years, remain to be made so.

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Just a few of the maps awaiting sorting and cataloguing

A Map Project involving volunteers has been underway for three years to achieve this and has reached the stage where, having identified and listed our remaining maps and their locations, assessing duplication and condition, we are now ready to select those which will be added to the Searchroom collection.  The task is complex though, and involves the volunteers spreading out maps around the Searchroom whilst we are closed on Mondays so they can be sorted.

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Spreading out maps in the Searchroom ready for sorting

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Our team of volunteers comprises Michael and Jane Thomas, who are NADFAS members, John Longhurst, and Andrew Morton who acts as leader bringing his expert knowledge of maps as a former land surveyor usefully to the task.

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The sorting and listing of the 20th century National Grid maps is a long term project that will take a few years, but we are looking forward to the end result of making our map collection ever more accessible.