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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCN 1255

Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1255)

Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1256)

Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1256)

Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1257)

Essex Weekly News, Chelmsford High Street (SCN 1257)


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

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

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

A riotous time in Steeple Bumpstead, 1861

John Crellin, Archive Assistant

Love it or loath it, football has always had the power to hit the headlines. An article from the ERO’s historic annals of the Essex Chronicle describes an off-pitch outbreak of communal violence associated with the ‘beautiful game’ in Victorian times.

On Friday July 19, 1861 the Chelmsford Chronicle, forerunner of the Essex Chronicle, dramatically headlined a story ‘Riot at Steeple Bumpstead’. What followed was a detailed account of court proceedings recording violent clashes between rioters and the police in the normally peaceful village of Steeple Bumpstead.

Riots at Steeple Bumpstead

Report in the Chelmsford Chronicle of 19 July 1861 on the disturbances at Steeple Bumpstead

Parishioners of Steeple Bumpstead had enjoyed the privilege of playing games of various kinds on an area of land in the village known as the Camping Close.

The close was said to be part of the land given to the parish by William Helion centuries ago and leased to the Lords of nearby Bower Hall.

Over the years the area had gradually reduced with the taking over, or enclosure, of sections of it by the Bower Hall estate for agricultural purposes.

Keen on their football, the villagers objected and various incidents of trespass resulted in a boundary, in the form of a ditch, being dug in 1849 by John Snape, then the tenant of Parsonage Farm (part of the Bower Hall estate), to cordon off a part of the Camping Close for his own use.

In the eyes of the villagers this was wrong. Snape was encroaching on their playing field.

In 1860 (with Snape gone and William Dere now tenant of the farm) their unhappiness resulted in some notable foul play when John Clayden, John Salmon and John Bunton, all described as ‘young tradesmen of Steeple Bumpstead’ moved a pile of manure from the area behind the boundary ditch and scattered it over Camping Close land. Later they returned with 20 fellow villagers to play football over the land, in the process treading the manure into the ground.

The three were brought before the magistrate’s court and charged with the offence of damaging a pile of manure. They were found guilty and fined a shilling.

The villagers firmly believed in the ancient rights and the case went to appeal at the Court of the Queen’s Bench. Here the conviction was quashed on the grounds that there was ‘reasonable supposition of right’ on the part of the defenders.

A short time later, encouraged by the verdict, John Bunton, a one-armed veteran of the Crimean War of the 1850s, William Woodham, William Spencer and Charles Willis overthrew a corn rick standing on the disputed area. As a result they were served with a writ by William Dere, to prevent further damage.

Incensed by the issuing of these writs, in the summer of 1861 a large crowd of villagers led by a man described as a ‘warlike veteran village lawyer’ entered another area of disputed land cutting down a hedge and 74 trees from a plantation.

Warrants for the arrest of the five men considered to be the ring leaders were issued, but when the local policeman Constable Robert Spencer tried to execute the warrants he and his colleagues were met with ‘forceful’ opposition amounting to a riot. In the face of such opposition the constabulary withdrew leaving the villagers in command of their Camping Close.

The rule of law was upheld the next day with the arrival of John McHardy, the Chief Constable. He met with the leaders and managed to persuade them to attend court in Castle Hedingham.

They were committed for trial at Chelmsford Assizes and led to Springfield gaol. John Claydon, 18, shoemaker, Charles Willis, 21 labourer, William Spencer, 18, baker, William Woodham 21, labourer and John Bunton, 25, labourer, were all indicted for their symbolic act of defiance in feloniously damaging trees in a plantation adjacent to Bower Hall Park.

The jury found the Steeple Bumpstead five guilty and the judge imprisoned them for one month without hard labour and to be bound over to keep the peace for two years.

Historic newspapers provide a never-ending supply of interesting, odd and surprising details about life in the past, and it’s easy to get lost in them for hours. If you fancy doing just that, make the most of free access to the British Newspaper Archive Online in the ERO Searchroom or Essex Libraries.

A version of this article was published in the Essex Chronicle in 2004 but it was such a good story we thought it was worth sharing again.

‘And so the mad Dance of Death has begun’: a look at the Essex County Chronicle of 7 August 1914

As we mark the 100th anniversary of Britain’s entry into the First World War on 4 August 1914, we thought we would take a look back at the immediate reactions and concerns of Essex people to the outbreak of the war as portrayed in the Essex County Chronicle.

The first edition of the Chronicle to be published after the declaration of war was on 7 August. As well as giving us an insight into people’s thoughts on the war, the paper gives us an idea of the activities and occupations of people on the eve of the conflict.


A Bank Holiday had just passed, on which the Great Eastern Railway had conveyed 42,411 people to stations serving Epping Forest, and there had been shows and sports around the county. Essex’s status as an agricultural county is also evident; it was reported that Chelmsford was confirmed to be home to the third largest wheat market in the country, and Colchester the sixth largest. All was not well in the world of agriculture though; a farm labourers’ strike in north Essex had culminated in five haystacks being set alight in Steeple Bumpstead and Birdbrook in the weekend before the declaration of war.

All of these snippets of news, however, were overshadowed by news of the war, and speculation as to how Essex was going to be affected.


Views on the war

The paper explained briefly what had unfolded on the continent so far: the Archduke of Austria had been assassinated by ‘some mad youth said to be a member of one or other of the cut-throat Societies which abound in Servia’. The ensuing row between Austria and Serbia had escalated until Russia and Germany became involved, ‘and so the mad Dance of Death has begun’.

Some people clearly opposed the war entirely: ‘Sir Albert Spicer is among those who have expressed their willingness to give effective support to an organisation for insisting that this country shall take no part in a Continental war unless directly attacked.’

The overall impression given by the paper’s reporting on the war is that people were not happy about it, but they would do their duty. Under the heading ‘Armageddon’, one journalist described ‘the great black war cloud which [has] darkened the horizon’, and thought that everything had been done by Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, to ‘avoid joining the titanic struggle’. Germany’s invasion of neutral Belgium, he believed, had left Britain no choice.


The mood in Essex was described as serious, but calm:

‘There is no panic, no mafficking, nor jingoism; a calm, serious resolve seems to pervade Essex, as indeed the whole country, to meet the terrible arbitrament of war cast upon us unflinchingly and with high courage, and there is a feeling that the sword must not be sheathed again until it is placed beyond the role of any one power to attempt or desire to dominate others.’

This is maybe not a totally accurate description of the prevailing mood, as the paper also reports on fears of a German invasion and on people hoarding food.


Fear of invasion

There was instantly some discussion in Essex about the possibility of a German invasion of England. The Mayor of Maldon, Alderman Krohn, was reported as saying that ‘it was practically certain that if the enemy did effect a landing at all, it would be on the Essex coast. That view is general, and it goes without saying that the authorities are prepared’. The idea that the authorities were prepared for a German invasion in August 1914 is not borne out by other sources, but that’s for another blog post.


Food hoarding and profiteering

One of the principal concerns in Essex on the outbreak of war seems to have been the hoarding of food and profiteering. The page giving news of the war is dominated by a large notice at its head:

‘In view of the great national emergency all sections of our people must stand together. Not only those in the fighting line, but those who are left to carry on the business of the nation have a duty to perform. There should be no scares, no attempt to corner the necessaries of life, no private hoarding of supplies, no waste in any shape or form. Suffering there must, unhappily, be. Let everyone do his part to minimise it.’


Food supplies are also mentioned in another segment on the page:

‘One of the outcomes of the outbreak of war between this country and Germany, is that prices of food have increased. Some traders – and to the honour of traders generally the number is not large – have rushed up prices to almost a famine standard. But the public are largely to blame for this, because they have with unnecessary panic, not unaccompanied by selfishness, bought heavily of the necessaries of life, without the least thought for others.’


Mr. J.J. Crowe, Chairman of Brentwood Urban Council, had commented that ‘Such wholesale buying of food and rushing to the bank … are not only unpatriotic but wicked’.

In the meantime, the Government had issued an assurance that there was no immediate danger of a food shortage; the German fleet was blockaded in the North Sea, and not in a position to interrupt the main routes through which British food supplies passed.


Looking back to the past

Just as we look back to the past of 100 years ago, so did the people of 1914. The Chronicle of 7 August included mention of a Mrs Brooks of Downham, apparently still going strong at the age of 102.


Mrs Brooks was distinguished by more than just her age:

‘Few people are alive now who can remember seeing Napoleon, but this lady has the dual distinction of having both seen the great Bonaparte and been spoken to by his conqueror, the Duke of Wellington.’

Mrs Brooks was born in Plymouth, and as a 3 ½ year old was taken by her father to see Napoleon as a prisoner on board the Bellerophon before he was taken to St Helena. When she was 17, she briefly met Wellington while visiting the Hon. Mrs Cotton, daughter of Lord Combermere.

‘It is no small coincidence that this venerable lady should have been born in the turmoil of a struggle which paralysed all Europe and should live to see the beginning of another which promises to be no less titanic.’

 All images reproduced courtesy of the Essex Chronicle


To find out more about First World War records at ERO, join us at the following:

Discover: First World War records at ERO, Wednesday 6 August, 2.30pm-4.30pm (details here)

A Righteous Conflict: Essex people interpret the Great War – A talk for the Essex History Group by Paul Rusiecki, Tuesday 2 September, 10.30am-11.30am, free, no need to book

Essex at War, 1914-1918, a day of events at Hylands House, Sunday 14 September (details here)


Stories from the stores: Anthony Carr, ERO’s Brain of Britain

At ERO, we pride ourselves on the expertise on our staff, but it seems like none of us could compete with one young archivist who worked here in the 1960s.

In 1962, Anthony Carr, then 24 and an assistant archivist at the ERO, won the accolade ‘Top Brain of Britain’ on the BBC’s radio general knowledge quiz ‘What Do You Know?’

(Essex Weekly News, 13 July 1962. Click for larger version)

Despite his youth, this was actually the third title which Carr had won on the quiz.

In 1956, at the age of 18, he had won the ‘Brain of Britain’ competition, beating a schoolmaster and a headteacher. He was the youngest ever winner, a record he maintains to this day.

Mr Carr had just left school and was working as a paper boy at the time, inspiring national headlines.

In the same year, he also won the 3-yearly competition ‘Brain of Brains’, beating the winners of ‘Brain of Britain’ from 1955 and 1954.

The ‘Top Brain of Britain’ competition which Mr Carr won in 1962 while working at the ERO was a 9-yearly title, in which 3 winners of the ‘Brain of Brains’ competition battled it out.

Not only did Mr Carr win, he scored more points than both of his opponents combined. His prize was a five guinea book token.

Mr Carr was very humble in his victory; interviewed afterwards he was reported to have said:

I take no special steps to acquire this sort of knowledge. I haven’t got a photographic memory. It’s largely a matter of luck whether you can answer the questions asked.

Despite his modesty, he was clearly a highly intelligent man and very widely read. Mr Carr has in recent years said that his time as a paper boy helped him to do well in the quiz, as reading the headlines as he delivered the papers helped him to stay well-informed on current affairs.

After four years at the ERO, Mr Carr returned to the University of Bangor, where he had previously studied, and eventually became a professor of medieval Welsh history.