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

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