Thursday, November 30, 2006


With thanks to Chelmsford Weekly News

If buildings could talk, what fascinating tales would emanate from Chelmsford’s Shire Hall. More imaginatively, what could the lovely Naiad – or water nymph - whose presence currently graces the foyer, tell us about her 215 years’ existence in the town.

John Johnson, County Surveyor of Essex was the man who designed and laid the foundation stone for the Shire Hall in 1789. Construction took two years and Johnson found time to create the Naiad from Coade Stone to stand in front of the Hall. When she was unveiled in 1791, she resembled a veritable Amazon - six feet tall – leaning on a shield on a cylinder decorated with four dolphins. The pillar on which she stood was five-foot high. Water poured from the mouths of the quartet of lions at the statue base. Burgess’s well (now under Fairfield carpark) which fed the lions had been sunk by the Friars during the Middle Ages and released water in an open channel down the High Street. The weekly market which was had been held in Tindal Square for centuries, benefited from the constant waterflow.

In 1814, Naiad was moved from Tindal Square to Springfield. The Conduit, a domed stone rotunda, took her place. In 1852, the Conduit was moved to the corner of High Street and Springfield Road. It stayed there for almost 90 years, then being a traffic hazard, was moved unceremoniously in 1940 to Tower Gardens where it remains.

But where was the Chelmsford Naiad? It’s a long story, but suffice to say that in the 1960s she was located and donated to the Borough Council who placed her on display in the Chelmsford and Essex museum at Oaklands Park. Finally, in 1980, she returned to the Shire Hall. Here she stands today – minus her shield, part of her arms and a portion of her nose, but nevertheless - still beautiful.

The Shire Hall has flourished for over two centuries. It was built on the site of the old Sessions House which had been the seat of the Assizes and Justices (Le Tolhouse) since the 13th century. During its construction, the ancient courthouses were retained to allow the sessions to continue. Shire Hall, with its three storeys, five bays with three arched entrances were faced in Portland stone. Coade stone was used to create the panels showing Justice, Wisdom and Mercy, and are still there above the three windows. The Courtrooms, huge ballroom and furnishings were paid for by public subscription with a £20 contribution from the Lady of the Manor, Ann Mildmay.

The Shire Hall has been pivotal in all aspects of our County Town and it is fitting that our Naiad statue has returned safely home.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


The Essex town of Billericay is proud of its Morris side which was founded in 1973. The side wear distinctive black and white tabards with the Mayflower ship on their backs, symbolising the five local people who became known eventually as the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed to Massachusetts in 1620. We also have our own Town Crier, Jim Shrubb seen here with the MM who is always in fine voice. More pictures and further historical background can be found on the Essex County Council's web link here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Trevor Baylis the Inventor

I met this interesting man, Trevor Baylis OBE, in London recently. He is the English inventor who created the clockwork radio, among many ingenious patents and lives in that fascinating place, Eel Pie Island. A world famous personality, he is a sought--after speaker and a great inspiration to young people helping them to set up their own businesses. But few know about his connection with our home town, Billericay and Trevor's connection with the famous Rosaire Circus family. He gave me a copy of autobiography and from it I see that he was born in Kilburn, London and spent his boyhood in Southall.

He was a great swimmer and, by the age of 15, he was swimming competitively for Britain. At 16 he joined the Soil Mechanics Laboratory in Southall and began studying mechanical and structural engineering at the local technical college. During his National Service years serving as a physical training instructor, he swam competitively for the army, later becoming a stuntman on TV shows, performing escape feats under water.

But before fame and fortune, Trevor arrived in Billericay with his friend Johnny Pugh and his father, Digger, a circus entrepreneur.
"In those days I wanted to be a circus tumbler and Digger taught me the tricks of the trade. We met up with Wally Texan, a knife thrower with the world-famous Circus Rosaire whose winter quarters were in the Billericay countryside.

When we arrived, the Rosaires met us. Digger had come to audition an act he wanted for the Sunderland Empire variety bill. It was an Ali Baba routine in which a girl writhed with a snake while dancing to languorous music. As she coiled herself around the serpent, a ‘Caliph’ swiped the air close to her permanent wave with a scimitar. The girl got into a basket with the python and the Caliph pierced the weave with about twenty swords. After a few passes around the basket, he withdrew the swords making a great play of how sharp they were. Then - hey presto - the girl and her pet emerged unharmed and everyone took a bow. Digger liked the act. ‘Forty quid for the week, Ralph,’ he said to the Caliph. And make sure the snake doesn’t misbehave - they’ve just redecorated the dressing rooms."

"In the woods nearby, we found the cages for the menagerie where a collection of animals housed for the winter. Here we met the beautiful Joan Rosaire who had a sharp-shooting act. I fell in love with Joan and included her in my book. I have some wonderful memories of Billericay and often wonder how things would have worked out if I had gone on to become a circus performer."

Joan Rosaire still lives in the Billericay area and photographs of her during her Circus days can be seen in Roger Green’s book "Billericay A Pictorial History" Picture of young Trevor and Digger Pugh.

Book Links

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  • Billericay Voices >>
  • The Billericay School >>
  • Brentwood - A Photographic History >>


With All Hallows’ Eve approaching, shops are bulging with supplies of witches’ hats and devils’ fangs in preparation for the Chelmsford Trick or Treat perambulations. The increasingly popular Hallowe’en craze, borrowed from America, may mean lots of fun - or annoyance - depending on your age, disposition or viewpoint.

Squadrons of skeletons and gangs of ghouls will take to the streets as youngsters come knocking on doors calling for ‘largesse’ or sweets accompanied by the odd shriek or cackle. All part of the fun nowadays; however, our history books covering the 16th century, indicate no mirth in even the slightest association with witchcraft and the Devil. Arrest, torture and even execution could have resulted. And Chelmsford Assizes were pivotal to this whole sorry witch craze.

Witchcraft has always been with us, entwined within Essex folklore. Many ordinary towns around Chelmsford were coloured by twin preoccupations of fear and superstition in the 17th century and the upsurge of witchcraft mania came when Henry VIII, who, mindful, of the Biblical command "Though shalt not suffer a witch to live" seems to have taken it literally. When Elizabeth l became queen after the death of half-sister Mary, her Parliament promulgated the new witchcraft legislation in 1563.

During that year, Londoners experienced a particularly pestiferous bout of plague. Seeking cures from the famous Essex "white witches", they came over the then border at Bow Bridge to seek the curative balms prepared by the Essex ‘wise women’. Very soon, however, these same women were accused of being in league with the Devil and his Black Arts, particularly if they owned a cat.

On a hot day in July 1566, most of the population of Chelmsford jostled for vantage points from which to view the first witchcraft trial. Three women from Hatfield Peverel, Elizabeth Francis, Agnes Waterhouse and her daughter Joan were on trial. On an elevated platform sat the inquiry board consisting of the Attorney General, Sir Gilbert Gerard and a judge of the Queen’s Bench, Sir John Southcote among other luminaries. The Assize Clerk wrote on a sheet of vellum "The Examination of Certain Witches at Chelmsford in the County of Essex before the Queen’s Majesty’s Judges this 27th day of July, being the second day of the Trial, Anno 1566."

This being the first notable witch trial since the passing of the Witchcraft Act, its importance was evident having brought such illustrious parliamentary judiciary to Chelmsford. Of the three women in the dock, two were dismissed, but the poor, 64-year-old Mistress Waterhouse was hanged in full view of Chelmsford’s citizens. Many more were to follow her fate over the next 150 years – a dreadful indictment in our county history.

By permission of Chelmsford Weekly News

Sunday, October 22, 2006



On being asked to comment on the dearth of funny titles hitting British bookshops, up pops Malcolm Burgess’s latest offering ’50 Reasons Why I Hate the Office. A brilliant read and certainly no connection with David Brent and Slough! From listening to his readers’ comments, Malcolm’s book has certainly struck a communal funny cord. and looks set to be a top stocking filler this Christmas.

Hutton-based Malcolm is well qualified to write his whimsical A – Z journey through the daily 9 - 5 office grind. After leaving university, much of his adult life has been spent in publishing, advertising and he was a former literary manager at Essex CC, organising the prestigious annual Essex Book Festival. Since September, however, he’s joined the select band of "working from home brigade."

Basking in some great reviews on radio and major broadsheets, this is one author who is enjoying his book’s success. As a freelance journalist and scriptwriter, his recent comic series has appeared in The Times, Metro and the Mail on Sunday’s ‘You’ magazine amongst other titles. His latest radio comedy, Fear and Loathing in Crouch End was first aired on Radio 4 in December 2005 and his column in London’s Metro newspaper has brought chuckles to many bleary-eyed commuters on Monday mornings.

"If hell had a modern name, it would be today’s workplace," laughs Malcolm. Try as they might to convince us that there’s a purpose to what we do (vision statements about global domination) and that they always have our best interests at heart (Human Resource managers who love us all), we know we’re being conned."

In his book, Malcolm comments on every aspect of office life, from the agony of Bonding and Away Days, workaholics, conference calls and that ghastly Office Creep (there’s always one), not forgetting Sex In the Office – there are lots of laughs.

Malcolm exploits the deep vein of cynicism and rebelliousness that runs through every office. Better than any stress-ball or executive toy, "I Hate the Office" is the essential weapon in the war against the angst of modern office life.

As reported in an article in The Times "From tedious training courses and ugly office design to the horrors of commuting and work as the new religion, there are many reasons to hate the office." Suggested solution? Head home and start loving life as a homeworker! 500 Reasons Why I Hate the Office, published by Icon Books ISBN 10-84046-779-7 £9.99

By permission of Brentwood Weekly News

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Chelmsford is a special place. The Romans evidently thought so calling it Caesaromagus or Caesar’s Plain. Its importance is emphasised, being the only town in Britain to be honoured with the imperial prefix. Records indicate that 2,000 years ago, a Roman encampment was established at the point where the London to Colchester road bridged the River Can. An East Saxon named Ceolmaer – appears to have had connections with a crossing place (or ford) across the river and it’s believed that the town achieved its name in this way.

With its unique geographical position lying in the centre of Essex, by the thirteenth century, Chelmsford had become the county town and the seat of law with its important assize courts. In his famous 1591 map, John Walker has faithfully drawn Chelmsford’s main thoroughfare and we can still see the shape of the town that is familiar today. Walker carefully illustrated every shop and tenement standing at that time. He included square courtyards, intricate chimney-pots indicated with little hammerheads, timbered gables, backyards and meadows including one belonging to the ancient Saracen’s Head Coaching Inn (recorded from 1539) and still one of Chelmsford’s major hotels.

Changes occurred gradually over the centuries but began speeding up with the introduction of the Eastern Counties Railway tracks in the 1840s. Around this time, too, photography became the most popular of the Victorian visual crafts. Frederick Spalding Senior was there at the start becoming the town’s first professional photographer. Initially, his shop was established in Duke Street where he lived over his premises with his wife, Eliza and nine children. The Spaldings moved to Tindal Square, where a studio of glass and corrugated iron on top of the house and shop was erected. Later, the business moved to 4 High Street.

Spalding’s eldest son, also Frederick was born in 1858. He grew up under his illustrious father’s influence, and also became fascinated with the photography business which then used the wet collodion method, involving heavy glass plates coated with chemicals and exposed for longish periods before being developed and fixed to produce glass negatives.

This early introduction to the magic world of photography fuelled young Frederick’s creative enthusiasm and this, combined with his natural drive and energy, made him one of Chelmsford’s most successful tradesman and honoured citizens. He died in 1947 and is remembered as being thrice Mayor of Chelmsford, Freeman of the Borough (in 1933) and a member of Chelmsford Town Council for an amazing record 54 years.

By permission of Chelmsford Weekly News

Sunday, October 01, 2006


"The memory of that night has stayed with me all my life," said the late Mrs Elsie Whale in 2001 when she was interviewed for Weekly News. An 11-year-old girl, she witnessed the destruction of the L32 German Naval Zeppelin airship during the early hours of Sunday, 24th September 1916. "It was a spectacular sight!"

Billericay certainly made worldwide headlines that morning when the airship was shot down over Great Burstead. This ‘super’ new zeppelin was one of four that flew that night, via Belgium, over London and the Home Counties, intent on destruction.

Although Britain boasted that her armed forces on land and sea were among the best trained and equipped in the world, at the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, little had been achieved in the development of aircraft for military use. However, Germany had aggressively pursued the science of aeronautics from its inception. Before the turn of that century, German strategists had determined the military role of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s dirigible airships. They were huge: 92 feet high including gondolas, 650 feet long, 78 feet in diameter and displacing 50 tons of air, they were capable of 65 mph, with 5-ton bomb-loads.

Commanded by Oberleutenant Werner Peterson of the German Naval Airship Division, the L32was forced to jettison its bombs over the River Thames before its intended attack on London. Flying from Suttons Farm, Hornchurch 23-year-old Second Lt. Frederick Sowrey on routine patrol in his BE2c (Bleriot Experimental) aircraft spotted the airship in the searchlights and began firing repeatedly into the Zeppelin, hitting the centre of the ship. Within seconds, it exploded and the vessel plunged earthwards, crashing into John Maryon’s fields in Greens Farm Lane. There were no survivors.

All this time, the action had been watched by sightseers who woke children from their beds when gunfire sounded and rushed to the crash-site to gather souvenirs. Pieces of the Zeppelin were sold off at sixpence each, although the local police quickly secured the area. Vendors selling horsemeat sandwiches set up in Jacksons Lane.

One of the first police officers to arrived at the scene was Inspector Allen Ellis who had watched the stricken airship crash. Cycling to the scene, he arrived shortly after the crash and was joined by constables from Great Burstead, Hutton and Brentwood. They guarded the bodies of the crew until the army arrived.

Twenty-two crew were buried at Great Burstead with full military honours, but in 1966 were exhumed and re-buried at the military cemetery at Cannock Chase. Between the two World Wars, several high-ranking Germans visited the churchyard at Great Burstead, to pay homage to the crew.

Poor John Maryon of Snails Hall Farm had to wait three years before the government coughed up compensation for the destruction of his trampelled crops. Remains of Zeppelin L32 can be seen in Billericay’s Cater Museum.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


With Permission of Chelmsford Weekly News

Christmas 2007 is set to be a lively time at BBC Essex with programmes tailored to suit all ages and interests. Television maybe important to some, but radio is vital to many. A generation of folk has grown up with BBC Essex since its birth 20 years ago on Wednesday 5th November 1986 and listeners have come to appreciate its presenters. For programme contributors and visitors who journey to New London Road, there’s always a warm welcome and cup of tea taken in that little glass-walled studio.

So as we enter Chelmsford - by any route – up comes the familiar sign indicating “The Birthplace of Radio”. Residents of the town have long regarded this as a matter of fact, yet visitors from all over the world marvel at what Guglielmo Marchese Marconi achieved when he first arrived in Chelmsford in 1896 from Bologna. He was a 22-year-old scientist on the verge of perfecting his dream that eventually changed the world for many people. Marconi had already successfully tested his wireless transmitter at his family home in Italy but could not patent his idea in his home country.

In 1900, Marconi’s Wire-less Telegraph Company issued the legendary 7777 patent allowing adjacent wireless stations to operate without interfering with each other, followed in 1901 by the first transatlantic signal between Cornwall and Cape Cod.

Marconi founded the Wireless Telegraph Company, building his first factory in New Street. There was much urgency for the building’s construction and this became the world’s first purpose-built radio factory, taking just 17 weeks for the 500 workers to erect it in 1912. Here, he and his associates carried out much of the early research into wireless telegraphy.

We’re familiar with the famous photograph of Dame Nellie Melba the Australian opera singer who made the first official radio broadcast in June 1920 from the New Street factory. Other transmitting research buildings were constructed, including the famous ex-army hut at Writtle, from which that famous wireless engineer, Captain Peter Eckersley began transmitting programmes on Tuesday evenings for half an hour. Eckersley was presenter, producer, actor-manager and writer His announcement; "This is Two Emma Toc, Writtle testing, Writtle testing", became almost a catchphrase of the day. Soon the sister company 2LO was created, then the BBC. 2MT did not itself become part of the BBC and closed down on in 1923. Peter Eckersley went on to become the founding Chief Engineer at the British Broadcasting Company.

The Essex writer, Arthur Mee, commented: “Now that the world is one vast whispering gallery, it is difficult to remember that it began at Writtle – the birthplace of British Broadcasting.”