2017-18 programme

All talks, presentations and meetings are open to visitors and are held in the Cramphorn Theatre, Fairfield Road, starting at 7.45 pm. There is no need to book but there is a nominal charge of £3 for members and £5 for visitors, payable on the night.

All outings leave from outside the theatre. Group members will have received booking terms and instructions with their Newsletter.

Parking is via Coval Lane only. Charges apply but there is an alternative car park next to the County Hotel which is free in the evenings and at weekends.

Click any event for details.

Annual General Meeting

The agenda for our AGM is as follows:

  1. A drawing of a microphoneApologies for absence
  2. Minutes of the last meeting
  3. Matters arising
  4. Chairman’s report
  5. Treasurer’s report
  6. Group funding of NT projects
  7. Election of President and Vice President
  8. Election of Committee
  9. Election of Honorary Examiner of Accounts
  10. Any other business

After the AGM Paul Forecast, the new Regional Director, will give us an update on the National Trust.

Tales from the smithyReport by Keith Otter

A coloured drawing of a horseWe were promised that Roger Dorking would regale us with tales from the smithy. He explained that he had started giving talks by accident rather than choice. BBC Essex had been preparing a programme on the Essex accent and someone recommended they speak to him. (Having heard him speak, I can confirm that he has an Essex accent and not the Estuary accent that has come to be associated with the county.) He received a telephone call from a BBC researcher and, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to take part. After the live broadcast one of the BBC staff said she had taken a number of telephone calls from people asking whether he gave talks. He phoned them all back and told them he did not. However, a few months later he did accept an invitation from a friend to speak at a WI meeting, which went so well he found himself giving more talks.

His father, known to everyone from the youngest to the oldest simply as “Henry”, was Witham’s blacksmith for nearly sixty years, starting work in the forge at the age of 14 and retiring when he was 70. The original owner retired when Henry was 56 and sold him the business. For the first time in his life Henry had to open a bank account and take out a loan. Even though he was now the owner it was his proud boast that he never earned enough to pay income tax. One of his sayings was “Hard up and happy – Money and misery.”

Henry shod horses for some 20 miles around and acted as farrier at the Essex Show and at the local point-to-point. The horses that came to him he would hot-shoe in his forge. For the other horses he would make the shoes in his forge and take them out to be cold-shoed. He knew the sizes needed by the horses he shoed regularly. For the Essex Show and the point-to-point he would take shoes of a variety of sizes with him and adjust them to fit on site using a portable anvil, a hammer and a pair of pliers.

Because he spent much of the day in the hot forge, Henry liked to be cool at home and would sleep with the window open in all sorts of weather, even though it was north-facing. Roger Dorking told us that one winter’s morning he was woken up by his father yelling “Roger, come in here, boy!” from the next room. He went in to find over an inch of snow on top of his parents’ eiderdown!

Henry would sometimes take the young Roger with him when he visited local farms, so Roger got to know them quite well. At 15 he left school to start working on one of the farms, much to his mother’s disappointment as he had done well at school and she had wanted him to go on to something grander (brain surgery?). Most of the tales he told about his own life were based on his four years working on the farm, so it was obviously a very happy time for him.

A few months after Roger started working on the farm he was asked to work with the horses as one of the horsemen had fallen ill. He worked in particular with two horses, Boxer, who was amenable, and Jack, who was fairly stubborn. He enjoyed ploughing with them. Although most farmers used tractors and other modern equipment, the farmer for whom Roger worked liked seeing the horses working on his farm and could watch them from the farmhouse.

Roger worked with an older horseman, Bert. On one occasion when the harvesting mangels, Roger asked Bert if it would be OK to take half a dozen home for his father to make wine out of them. Bert said “Yes” and Roger put six aside in a bag and cycled the three miles home with it on the front of his bike. When he got home he found that his bag contained nothing but bricks and dirt! Bert had played a trick on him, although he did find the six mangels in a corner when he returned to the farm.

Nothing was said about it. A few months later Bert put some wood aside to take to his cottage across the road from the farm to burn on his fire. Roger opened the bag Bert had put them in and hid two iron ploughshares in it. This time Bert said nothing until several weeks later when he commented that “I found a couple of ploughshares that I put on the fire. They burned beautifully.”

After four years Roger left the farm for higher wages and worked in a number of non-farming jobs, including one he had at Marconi’s for twenty years. He married and started his own family, not having taken his father’s advice “Remain single and bring up your children to do the same.”

Space prevents me repeating all the stories Roger Dorking told us. He proved to be a real character, so it is no wonder people were so taken by his original broadcast. If you ever get the opportunity to hear him speak, do take it.

President’s EventReport by Alan Arnot

A lady sitting on a mobility scooter with friends looking onOne advantage of having as our new President a volunteer at our local NT property of Hatfield Forest is that we could benefit from the 'hot line' that his position gave. Consequently we have been able to enjoy two visits that David Simmonds has organised for us this summer. The first was on the afternoon of Thursday, 4 May, thereby enabling us to escape temporarily from the shenanigans of the General Election. We checked in at the welcome centre where we sat down to hot drinks, scones, cream and jam (with many thanks to David&squo;s wife, Winifred, for arranging this treat), followed by an account of the recent work at Hatfield Forest. Having been more than adequately fed, we were introduced to our guide, Ben, who walked us round part of the huge site, starting at the Shell House. The visit coincided with Felicity’s birthday and, as a treat, she was shown how to use the new mobility scooter (a Tramper) which had recently been acquired. In a short space, it is impossible to cover all the work which the Forest is undertaking but we did learn that a growing problem is the sheer number of visitors. Consequently, many of the paths are getting worn so much that they have been losing their biodiversity. To combat this, the staff have closed off some of the pathways to give them chance to recover. We left with a much better understanding of the Forest with the usual thanks to David and his staff for an excellent afternoon.

Outing to Wicken Fen and Otley HallReport by Alan Arnot

This was the first of our year&squo;s outings, with one (almost) full coach. Our driver, Steve, arrived promptly at the Civic Theatre and we headed northwards towards the M11, A14 and A10. The May blossom was out in force but the grey, overcast skies did not show it to best effect. We arrived on schedule at Wicken Fen and were welcomed by a volunteer who checked our cards and directed us towards the learning centre for our coffee and biscuits. Various options were available but we opted for the boat trip, which only allowed a maximum of 12 people. A Tudor manorThe little boat cruised gently through the reeds up to the “Wicken lode” before turning around and coming back by the same route. We managed to see some of the Konic ponies which we'd help purchase some years before. On return, we were served a very nice ploughman’s lunch in the education centre before making our way back to the coach.

Our next destination was the old Tudor house of Otley Hall near Woodbridge. This was not a NT property and we were all seeing it for the first time. We were met by a small team of volunteers, told a bit about the house and divided into two groups for the tours. Our group had as our guide the wife of the owner, Catherine Beaumont, who was also the local vicar. It wasn't a large house but it was steeped in history and is also available for other activities such as retreats. We ended the tour with cream teas in the dining room but there was still time for a quick look around the gardens and see one of the peacocks with its tail up before re-boarding the coach for a trouble-free return, arriving back in Chelmsford at 6.25 p.m. It had been a good start to our trips season!

Outing to Capel Manor and de HavillandReport by Alan Arnot

The proximity of these venues to Chelmsford meant that our driver, Tim, was able to take us straight to Capel Manor Gardens without a comfort stop. The weathermen had predicted the hottest day of the year so far – and how right they were!! Capel Manor is located in Enfield just off the A10. This meant that we were conscious of traffic noise during our visit rather than the peace and tranquillity we normally associate with gardens. The leaflets we were given described them as “a colourful and scented oasis surrounding a Georgian Manor House and Victorian Stables”. The layout of the gardens was based on themed zones, the outer fringes of which were the most wooded, with seats located in their shade – much appreciated in the heat! Most of us concentrated on the zone described as the 'National Gardening Centre', conveniently located next to the restaurant. It showcased a wide range of gardening styles, including re-creations of gardens that had won awards at earlier Chelsea Flower Shows. The restaurant had been open all the time for light refreshments but it didn’t start serving meals until 12 noon, which meant that it got very busy for lunch before re-boarding the bus at 1:00 p.m.

We re-joined the M25 for the short journey to the de Havilland Aircraft Museum at the former Salisbury Hall near London Colney. Tim had to negotiate a tricky entrance to the coach park and we were asked to go straight into the café area to meet our guide, who gave an outline of theA group of people looking at an old fashioned aircraft inside a hangar early life of Geoffrey De Havilland and how his passion for flying led to the establishment of the aerodrome at nearby Hatfield. We were then led to the various hangars to see the static displays of some of the iconic aeroplanes that had made the de Havilland firm world-famous. These included earlier models such as the Tiger Moth, up to the more recent jet planes like the Vampire and, of course, the Comet, the world's first jet airliner. Not surprisingly, the most iconic of all was the Mosquito. A restoration of the first version stood proudly at the front of the main hangar, whilst volunteer mechanics worked somewhat noisily on restoring a later version. The heat made it a tiring tour but it was very informative and the staff were very good at making sure there were chairs on hand for those who found the heat too demanding. The guide's last presentation was outside near the fuselage of the last-ever prop-engine airliner to be built at the Hatfield site, the BAe 146. We were then free to go inside the aircraft on display, even sitting at the controls of some. Tea and biscuits back in the cafeteria were much appreciated before joining Tim on the coach for the home run. He accomplished a brilliant piece of manoeuvring at the narrow exit before getting back on the road. It was then a straightforward journey back to Chelmsford and home, in many cases, no doubt, to cold drinks and comfy chairs!

Outing to Woolsthorpe and Southwell WorkhouseShirley Deering

Two coaches left Chelmsford at 8.30am, Coach J for Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, Coach P taking the 45 minute longer journey to The Workhouse in Nottinghamshire. The plan was for both coaches to leave their destinations in the early afternoon, with Coach P travelling to Woolsthorpe Manor, A grey housewhile Coach J went on to The Workhouse. Thanks to Paul’s expert execution of his impeccable planning it all worked perfectly, even though Coach J was in charge of an amateur leader (ie Shirley Deering, who wrote this report; you did a fine job, Shirley! - Webmaster). Thanks to invaluable help from the driver and friendly assistance from the rest of the party I managed not to leave anyone behind.

Wolesthorpe Manor is a solid, unpretentious farmhouse, furnished as the comfortable home of a seventeenth century yeoman farmer. Here Isaac Newton was born in 1642, a posthumous, premature and sickly baby who against all expectations, survived, and grew to become a leading scientist. A particularly intriguing reminder of his childhood is in his bedroom, where young Isaac scratched the image of a Cavalier in the plaster of the wall near his bed. The outline is now preserved under a glass panel. There are no gardens, as such, at Woolsthorpe Manor, but there is a picnic area and a small orchard – and of course, The Tree!

The two parties met briefly in the car park, then Coach J departed for The Workhouse at 12:45pm. With Andrew, The Boss of Kings Coaches driving, what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, the sign for the entrance to The Workhouse was, as everyone agreed, very poorly sited and was not glimpsed until too late. However, everyone enjoyed the bonus tour of the quaint old town of Southwell.

In complete contrast to Woolsthorpe Manor, The Workhouse is a large austere building. Many of the rooms are bare, some are furnished with items relating to the original use of the room. The beds in the dormitories show how little space the residents had. The complete tour of one and a half hours and is quite demanding. Some members found the lure of the tearoom, which was due to close at 4:30pm, outweighed the interest in climbing the final flight of steep, narrow stairs! Again, there are no gardens as such at The Workhouse, but there is a large vegetable patch. In the nineteenth century, this would have been maintained by the male residents and the produce used in The Workhouse. Today it is tended by volunteers and the produce sold to visitors. Thank you, Paul, for another incredibly successful day out.

Outing to Jane Austen’s House and PetworthReport by Alan Arnot

With 2017 being the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, it seemed appropriate that we should include a visit to the house where she lived for the last eight years of her life. Consequently, 52 of us set off with our driver, Tim, to the little village of Chawton, near Winchester. Her house was immediately recognisable as we entered the village, lying just opposite the Cassandra’s Cup Tea Room, named after Jane's sister, A red brick house with a bricked-up door for farm wagonswhere the staff welcomed us on arrival for morning coffee or tea, served in china cups and saucers, with slices of delicious homemade shortbread. It all seemed very English! Paul had gone across to the house to collect our stickers which were conveniently given out as we sat at the tables and which allowed us to stroll across to the house in our own time. Apart from the house itself, there were the options of looking round the colourful garden or watching a DVD of Jane’s life in the education room. As the house is small, entry had to be carefully controlled by a volunteer at the door. The period furniture included the unbelievably small table where Jane wrote her six most famous novels. Her early death at the age of 41 left us wondering what her output might have been had she lived longer.

Our afternoon stop was at the National Trust property of Petworth House, a 17th Century mansion located between Midhurst and Billingshurst. Tim had a challenging approach through the narrow streets of the town to our dropping off point by the entrance, which led straight in to the busy restaurant where a hungry coach load sat down for a late lunch. The house was built in 1682 for the wealthy Percy dynasty. Its speciality is its large collection of paintings, including by such renowned artists as van Dyck, Reynolds, Titian and Turner, but it had additional attractions such as the 'below stairs' servants' quarters and the huge Capability Brown-designed park. Tim had a tricky job of picking us up in the busy street outside for the ride home but, once again, it was Mission Accomplished!

President’s EventReport by Alan Arnot

Aerial view of a forestOur second visit to Hatfield Forest at the invitation of our President, David Simmonds, was on the evening of Monday, 21 August. On this occasion we left our cars at the entrance where we gathered round to hear the work of the Forest’s bat conservation. We were given some of the bat detectors which our supporters' group had purchased specifically to aid and monitor the work. After a brief set of instructions on how they would be used, we set off on the longish walk to the lake, by which time darkness had fallen and the bats were emerging from the trees for their nightly feeds on flying insects. We learnt that different species of bat use different frequencies on their extraordinary echo systems to locate their prey and we were all astonished at the first clicks and pulses of sound that were clearly audible from our little gadgets, even above the noise of the jets from Stansted airport. Actual sightings of the bats required quick head reflexes as these amazing little animals flew at great speed above our heads. Admiration for bats was enhanced hugely as, somewhat reluctantly, we handed back our detectors and made our way over to the education centre where a highly enjoyable and informative evening was rounded off with tasty sandwiches, cakes and beverages. It only remained for us to thank the David and the Staff for a memorable evening.

Talk on the Pioneer Sailing TrustReport by Keith Otter

We enjoyed a presentation by David Tournay of the Pioneer Sailing Trust, which is based in Brightlingsea. He helped to found the Trust in 1999.

The original aim was to restore the Pioneer, an oyster smack built by Peter Harris in 1864. It was originally 55' long and was used to dredge for oysters in our local coastal waters. The fishermen would take her out in the morning and return with their catch at the end of the day. When it was realised that much larger oysters could be found in Dutch waters, Pioneer was extended to 70' by the simple expedient of cutting her in half and inserting an extra length between the two halves. The additional size made the smack a safer vessel to sail to Dutch waters and the new section included a hold in which oysters could be kept for much longer. Pioneer could be at sea for two weeks at a time. The work on the smacks was quite hard and contemporary records indicate that most crewmen were in their fifties or sixties and therefore no longer suited for work on larger fishing vessels.

When David and his colleague Rupert Marks found Pioneer she was a wreck half-buried in the estuary mud. Over some time they carefully removed the mud and then lifted her out and took her to a farm building.

A red-sailed fishing smackHe described the restoration process. It is important to use straps or other supports to preserve the wreck’s shape once it is removed from the mud. The keel is replaced with one made from new timber, then the old ribs are removed and replaced with new timber. (I think “ribs” may be the wrong word but it’s the way I think of them.) These ribs can be a complex shape so the shipwrights are not necessarily looking to start with straight timber; it usually comes from thick branches.

After that planks are affixed to the outside to complete the hull. These have to be steamed to make them supple enough to bend to the required shapes

The old boat builders had no plans for the smacks they built. They worked by eye. The only guide the Trust had to layout of the decks and rigging came from a photograph of similar boats in a harbour, which dates from around 1908. The sails were made by a local firm of sailmakers.

A question was raised as to whether this could really be called a restoration of the original boat, since the amount of original timber left in the finished boat was negligible. David’s answer was that the Trust considered it was a true restoration since the new structure was built up by replacing the original wood, so far as it remained, in situ, starting first with one part and then removing and replacing the next. The resulting boat was in a way built up from the remains of the old one.

Having completed the boat, the Trust debated what it was best to do with it and decided to use it to give young people training and experience in sailing. The trustees had also come to realise that traditional wooden shipbuilding was a dying art and therefore started an apprenticeship scheme for shipwrights, aimed particularly at young people who may have struggled academically. So far thirty apprentices have been through the scheme; David mentioned some who are now working successfully as professional shipwrights.

The Pioneer is not the only boat the Trust has restored. It received a request to restore a Stour Valley barge, like one shown in a Constable painting. That was found half-sunk and with plants growing out of it in a body of water that is now in the middle of a residential area, making extraction something of a challenge. That has now been fully restored and is operating on the Stour once more under the name “John Constable”.

The Trust has also made boats from scratch,including pilot gigs, which it sells, and one based on a Trinity House launch, which it uses itself to take people out to the Pioneer.

Group holiday in the Lake DistrictReport by Keith Otter

Monday, 25 September 2017

Forty-six of us were picked up outside the Civic Theatre at 8:30 am by our coach from Kings Coaches, ably driven by Mark, who was also our driver last year.

Our first port of call was the National Trust property Moseley Old Hall. This is reached down a narrow country road. It was wide enough for the coach but Mark had trouble turning into the road from the equally narrow road it adjoined. He finally managed it after what seemed like ten minutes of carefully reversing and going forward again until the coach was finally lined up. Fortunately the car drivers waiting to get past were very patient.

Moseley Old Hall is described as “The home that saved a king”. After his defeat at the Battle of Worcester, Charles I’s older son (later Charles II) took refuge at the Hall with the Roman Catholic family who lived there. We were shown the priest’s hole inA knot garden which he hid when Parliamentary troops visited the Hall during their search for him. It is indeed very well hidden, being reached through what was a clothes cupboard at the time. The story goes that the owners maintained an appearance of normal life at the Hall to fool the troops, who actually never went inside.

I was impressed by the knot garden (see photograph). This has a newly built framework for an extension of the rose walk. So far as we could see, no metal had been used in its construction.

Mark was able to reverse the coach in the Moseley Old Hall car park and got back to the main road without any problems. We arrived at the Cumbria Grand Hotel in Grange-over-Sands in time to wash and change before dinner at 7:30 pm. The hotel is set in wooded grounds of some 20 acres and is probably one of the best hotels we have used for our Group holidays. (I can’t recommend the gammon steak but the rest of the food we had there was very good.)

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

On Tuesday we started by visiting Dove Cottage in Grasmere, William Wordsworth’s first family home, and the nearby Wordsworth Museum. It would have been a very cosy place to live. At the time it faced on to what was then the main road with uninterrupted views of the lake. Other houses have been built in front since. After we had finished going round the Cottage, Pat and I went into the steep garden behind it, which still has commanding views from the top. As we came back down again we stopped to listen to a young volunteer, who read two of Wordsworth’s poems about inscriptions and another by a contemporary writer who had stayed locally. She was a good reader and the poems were evocative of the area.

Wordsworth moved from Dove Cottage when it became too small for his growing family.

The museum housed an interesting exhibition on Wordsworth, his family and friends, particularly the other poets he attracted to the area.

Colourful shrubs in autumn coloursIn the afternoon we went to Sizergh Castle, the home of the Strickland family. It is now owned by the National Trust but the family still live in part of it. The family have lived there for over 750 yeas, which will tell you just how old the oldest parts of the castle are. The rooms open to the public include a number which are wood-panelled and contain old furniture and paintings. Our visit coincided with a week when some of the exhibits had been opened or uncovered so that visitors could get different and better views of them. One of them was a large Victorian dining table which has five removable leaves that can be used to lengthen it but is supported on just four legs.

After looking round the castle Pat and I spent some time in the grounds, which have a number of different areas. On the Wooded Knoll we noticed that the low willow arches used to delineate the edges of the path had taken root and sprouted.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A rakish Victorian steam launchWednesday was a “Victorian Day” which started with a trip on Lake Coniston on the Victorian steam launch Gondola. This was restored and is now owned by the National Trust. While on board we were told about the restoration, which reminded me of the description of boat restoration given by David Tournay at the Group evening meeting the previous week. The steam engine is fuelled by blocks made from sawdust from sawmills and is surprisingly quiet. Even those sitting in the open area at the front could hear nothing but the lapping of the water against the bow. The cabin is luxuriously appointed. If you are sitting in the forward part it is well worth looking up to admire the ceiling. The lake was completely calm.

We then visited two places associated with Beatrix Potter, the village of Hawkshead, which houses the Beatirx Potter Gallery, and Hilltop, a house she bought but never lived in.

The Beatrix Potter Gallery is in what used to be the office of her husband, who was a solicitor. It contains a number of her very charming watercolours which illustrate some of her books. It also has a few things dotted around, such as old company seals, to remind one that it was once a solicitor’s office. They reminded me of my time training as a chartered accountant in the 1960s and I found myself wishing that one room had been restored to something like it would have been as an office. All the rooms were quite small.

Hilltop is not far away. Although she never lived there, Beatrix Potter was obviously very fond of it and it appears in many of her illustrations. We were able to compare her illustrations with the actual places and artefacts they were based on. One upper room, now furnished as a bedroom, contains three large paintings by her younger brother.

We got back to Grange-over-Sands by about 5 o’clock, allowing those who wished to get off at the railway station to explore the town. Pat and I returned to the hotel, where we dumped our things and made ourselves cups of tea before walking down the drive and along the promenade. It started raining when we got to the railway station so we turned round and made our way back.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

On Thursday we went to Bowness on Lake Windermere for another boat trip. We had enough time before the boat left to look quickly round the town. Pat and I went into St James’s Church. The roof beams and the pillars, which are painted white, all bear Biblical quotations.

A pleasure boatThis time our lake trip was on the 1930s boat Swan, which is apparently licensed to carry 550 people. The weather was very calm and Pat and I sat on the open upper deck. It was very relaxing to sit there and watch the shores slip by on our short voyage south to Lakeside.

From Lakeside we took to the preserved steam railway for the 3.2 mile journey to Haverthwaite. We travelled in carriages that dated from the end of the steam era, reminding me of my childhood and teenage years.

The coach met us again at Haverthwaite to take us to the privately-owned Holker Hall. (You can get a combined ticket for the lake and train journeys and the Hall.) Much of Holker Hall burned down in 1871. It was deliberately rebuilt with larger rooms to impress visitors. We were indeed duly impressed. The large rooms contain much fine furniture and paintings but I was particularly struck by the wood panelling, which is very beautifully carved.

After looking round the Hall, Pat and I spent some time admiring the gardens, which have many different areas. We also wandered out into the parkland, where we walked the labyrinth through (recently erected) standing stones.

Friday, 29 September 2017

A large red-brick Victorian mansionAmazingly we had our first heavy rain on Friday morning, when we started our journey home. Unfortunately there were severe traffic problems, which delayed us by over two hours. Nevertheless, we were able to spend enough time at Sudbury Hall either to get something to eat or to look around the Hall and grounds. Pat and I opted to look around the Hall. There is one room which has been kept in its condition before restoration, which makes one realise just how much work the National Trust does with the properties it takes over.

We arrived back in Chelmsford just before 8 pm.

Outing to visit London film locations

Coloured drawing of a cameraman leaning against his cameraWe leave Chelmsford a little later than usual so we can start with a Carvery lunch before the tour, and then have time for a cuppa before we leave.

From the Long Good Friday to Harry Potter, James Bond and Bridget Jones, we will be shown the “locations” in one of the world’s most filmic cities. Revealed will be interesting facts about how filming in London works, where permission is needed to close somewhere like Trafalgar Square or Westminster Bridge, or to film in and around various buildings. It is a fascinating glimpse into the life of “Lights, Camera, Action” in the capital city, and a tour of some great sites of London.

The Evening Standard 31st January edition told us: “London aims to become the world’s most film-friendly city as part of series of measures announced today...” London is the third busiest city for film productions after Los Angeles and New York... About three-quarters of the UK’s film industry is based in and around London contributing roughly £1.2 billion to the capital’s economy in 2016.


Talk on the history of Chelmsford High StreetReport by Keith Otter

The only spare seat for this talk was next to me. Make of that what you will!

Alan Pamphilion.organises the Chelmsford History Walks. His talk was based on one of them and concentrated on the period from 1860 to 1960.

He illustrated it with many old photographs of the High Street and Tindal Street, starting with a photograph showing horses and carts in the High Street with no car anywhere to be seen. At that stage the High Street had a rough surface made of crushed granite like that used in the construction of the railway. Since this produced a lot of dust in the summer, the Council bought tree bark chippings from the local tanners to lay on top. At this time the Conduit was in place at the junction of the High Street and Springfield Road, having been moved from its original spot where the statute of Judge Tindal now stands. (The Conduit was moved again in 1940 and is now in Admiral’s Park.)

The High Street had retail and residential premises but gradually the retail businesses took over. Some of the residential buildings still exist, albeit given over to retail use. One of them, originally the house of a Mr Pugh, still retains its original features in the upper storeys, including a magnificent staircase and ceilings. At one time one of its rooms was used as the judges’ robing room.

Alan talked about many of the businesses that had once been in the High Street and Tindal Street, including the shop Mr Bond opened in the High Street in 1902. He gradually bought up a number of adjoining properties to either side and combined them into what became Bond’s Department Store and is now Debenhams. It revealed its origins as separate shops in the different floor levels as you walked around. However Bolingbroke & Wenley, on the opposite side of the High Street, suffered even more from differing floor levels within the store.

There were a number of pubs and inns along the High Street, including the Cock Inn, the King’s Head, the Queen’s Head and the Saracen’s Head. The Saracen’s Head is the only one still running and is the oldest building in the High Street, having been built in 1539 as a coaching inn (which is reflected in the extant large archway through which horses and carriages used to pass). During World War II it was used as a hostel for American servicemen. Apparently the hostel advertised for local girls to work there and 300 applied!

A pedestrianised shopping streetThe Shire Hall dates from the 18th century. The clock was added in the 19th century as part of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee; Sparrow’s Bank met the cost. Sparrow’s was later taken over by Barclays and its building now houses a Jamie Oliver restaurant.

The Corn Exchange stood at the top of Tindal Street. It was built when farmers complained that the light in the Shire Hall, where they had traded previously, was so bad that they could not judge the quality of what they were buying. Built on to the back of the Exchange was a large space with a glass roof, which allowed the farmers to see more clearly. After it ceased to function as a corn exchange the building was used as a centre for music, dancing and entertainment. Hoffman’s and Marconi’s held their staff Christmas parties there. Members of the audience could remember Jimi Hendrix performing there in the 1960s. Very sadly it was demolished at the end of that decade.

There were three pubs in Tindal Street: The White Hart, The Spotted Dog and The Dolphin. There were stories about the landlady of The Spotted Dog standing in the street outside, arms akimbo, encouraging passers-by to enter and sample the wares. The Dolphin was the least salubrious of the three, its public bar smelling of stale beer and cigarette smoke.

In the 1960s, Wainwright’s was at the bottom of Tindal Street. This was a coffee bar and “the best fast-food shop in Chelmsford at the time”, frequented by both mods and rockers. They had no difficulty attracting “Saturday Girls” but they weren’t allowed to use the espresso machine.

The Half Moon pub was on the opposite corner. This is now long gone but the name of the square on which it stood, Half Moon Square, is now being revived.

After the interval, as well as asking questions members of the audience contributed their own memories of Chelmsford in the 1950s and 60s, including recollections of the Grippers hardware store, where the cash was sent to the cashier along vacuum tubes and the fact that the cashier was never known to smile.

Talk on the Gunpowder Plot

Drawing of an old-fashioned bomb with a lit fuse 
It may not be 5 November but this is still an appropriate time to remember the plot to blow up Parliament in 1605. Richard Thomas will tell us something of this fascinating piece of history.

Christmas lunch on the Thames

A fish looking at a cooked turkey lowered on hooks 
We will go by coach from Chelmsford to Windsor. There we will board our boat for a three-hour cruise, during which Christmas lunch will be served. When the boat returns to Windsor we will get back on our coach for the journey home.


“Salisbury Hall & de Havilland Aircraft Muesum”

A passenger propeller aircraft taking off 
If you visited the de Havilland Aircraft Museum with us on 17 June, or even if you didn’t, you are sure to be interested in this talk by Alistair Hodgson.

Talk on Canine Partners

Canine Partners logo 
How do Canine Partners give practical and emotional help to their partners?

Speaker to be announced.

Talk on plans for Chelmsford’s MuesumPay on the door

Stylised version of the universal symbol for a museum 
Nick Wickenden will bring us up to date.

Annual General MeetingPay on the door

A drawing of a microphoneAfter the AGM John Frankland will tell us the fascinating story of William Potter.

The date is still to be confirmed.

Talk on the history of the handbagPay on the door

A pink handbag 
Come and learn the history of Maggie’s favourite accessory from Sarah Shehadeh.

Group holiday in DevonNot yet open for booking

A riverside town 
Our 2018 Group holiday will be based on Tiverton, Devon. Watch our Newsletters for further details.