Monday, December 31, 2007


Here's wishing viewers a very Happy New Year. Author Elizabeth Lord has just seen her 20th book published and will be one of the writers who will be at Brentwood Library on Friday 11th January 7.30pm to talk about her work. With her will be Frances Clamp. Jim Reeve, Steve Crancher and many more Essex writers including yours truly.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Book signing day for Elizabeth with Jim Shrubb, our town crier.


Members of Billericay Rotary, Mayflower Morris and Jim Shrubb, our Town Crier

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Father Christmas in Essex

By kind permission of Essex Newsquest

We’re not sure what this little deer thinks of Dennis Rookard (or Father Christmas on this cold December day), but his little companion seems happy and will undoubtedly remember this magic moment in South Weald Park.

Playing the role of the merry old gentleman was just another part for Dennis who has scripted, acted and produced programmes for radio and local TV and written freelance journalism since the 1960s. Dennis’ memories have recently appeared in CHRISTMAS PAST IN ESSEX. Being interviewed for the book made him reflect on his own Christmas experiences.

‘Like many other kids of the 1950s, I never realised I was deprived in any way. My family lived in a two-up-two-down cottage with gas for lighting and cooking, candles and oil lamps in the bedrooms and an outside loo at the end of the garden – didn’t everyone?

‘At Christmas, I was always so excited about the thought that Santa would be coming that I tried to stay awake to witness his arrival, but I never did and always fell asleep. Then I used to wake up before my parents on Christmas morning and race to the window to see if snow had fallen – it never did! Bu then my attention quickly went to the sack, or pillowcase that was at the bottom of my bed, as I could see there were things inside and I knew Santa had been. My sack was always full of toys, sweets and books. I remember getting an Eagle Annual which was one of my favourite books. But one year, I got a portable radio – a special treat!

‘Since we had no electricity, there was obviously no television but during the Christmas holiday we used to listen to a large battery-powered wireless. The radio was only used in the evening as we listened to Dick Barton or Journey into Space with everyone hoping the battery would last through these great programmes. When not listening to the radio, I was reading, as I’ve always had a voracious appetite for books.”

When Dennis grew up, he took a job as Santa in a large store. He said:

‘ I remember a little girl coming into my grotto with her mother, and after a little humorous repartee I asked the child, “What would your mum like for Christmas.” She looked me straight in the eyes and with a very serious look, she replied, “A man!’’

These days, Dennis is constantly busy at Christmas, either working with Brentwood District Talking Newspaper, Eastward Hospital Television, and this December, on one of his regular radio programmes for Phoenix FM.


What will become of our favourite old post offices? Much speculation at present! Although many smaller post offices have already disappeared, many fear the closure of their Brentwood post office which has stood in its present location at the corner of St Thomas Road and High Street for almost seventy years. Even before this, the earlier building - an ornate Dutch gabled post office built in 1891- was one of the most popular meeting places in Brentwood.

Christmas time, of course, was extraordinarily busy for staff, particularly the postmen who started at dawn and were used to delivering mail at least three times daily – even on Christmas Day itself. They also received the mail from Billericay which was driven in by special van for onward transmission by GPO workers, one of whom, was our lovely Jack Bartlett – now aged 93.

Much has been written about Brentwood’s first known postmaster. He was Samuel Smith, who in 1637 earned £5 a year, a sum that remained unchanged until 1760. At the end of the 18th century, letters from Brentwood were despatched at 5am and the mail received from London the same day via the mail-coaches and, in earlier centuries, by post boys on horseback.

Around that time, the medieval Crown Inn existing for centuries in Brentwood High Street was used as a postala centre. This was managed by the formidable Emma Birt. A few years later, the Chequers Inn was used for receiving post and we know that a shop at 109 High Street, still extant, which stood opposite the ancient Town Hall was a hive of business, collecting and sorting mail.

In 1872 the Post Office declared that parcels not exceeding 12-ounces in weight could be sent by letter-post. That year, 200,000 letters containing small gifts were sent through the post in Essex alone at Christmas time. By then the famous Henry Cole had introduced the first official Christmas card which started an avalanche of cards for those who could afford to buy and send them.

One Brentwood resident, writer and photographer, Geoff Perrier has wonderful memories of starting at the General Post Office as a 14-year-old messenger. This was during World War Two. His duties included cycling to Warley Barracks daily, delivering dozens of coded telegrams arriving in the town. He remembers some of the quaint uniforms during worn by GPO postmen. “They wore double-peaked hats looking like bosuns from Nelson’s days and delivered the letters and parcels to shop-keepers in huge two-wheeled wicker baskets. These were bright-red with the GPO initials painted in black letters on the side. Geoff has written his wonderful memories entitled Reflections.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Meet my friend, Lynfa Phillips, living in South Wales who is a very special lady with tremendous energy and intelligence and is one of my role models. In 2005 she was awarded Welsh Woman of the Year and is one of the first Dynamo Role Models attending a short training course in November 2001 following which she began her input to schools in 2002, which is ongoing. On 12th December Lynfa has been invited by the Head Teacher of Tonyrefail School to present special prizes to some of the pupils, in recognition of examinations they sat in the summer of 2007. She will be so proud to attend.

She explained: “These are people who run their own businesses and as such, we are commissioned to go in to schools and present to year 9 and 10 pupils, mainly on entrepreneurialship. We try to change the culture from a ‘can't do’, to a ‘can do’ attitude. Of course many of the pupils know the path they wish to take, but for others, it is opening up the paths of feasibility and possibility. I tell them if I could do it at 62 with NO Experience, think of what they can do, the world is their oyster. I love it!” At this age, Lynfa took over a company trading with Tokyo AND learned the language, too. What a girl!

Lynfa is inspirational to people of all ages. Earlier this year, she was asked to be the Team Facilitator for Team Japan, which is in the Millennium Centre Cardiff as part of the 2007 Global Enterprise Challenge. 13 countries participated. America won. She visited the school in Kyoto in November.

She is a board member of Groundwork Merthyr, Rhondda, Cynon, Taff. They are twinned with Japan and this was the reason she was asked to join the board, representing the private sector and sharing her knowledge of Japan and their culture. Lynfa has achieved so much certainly over the last decade and it looks as if this coming year will be even busier. Will try to keep up with Lynfa and her fascinating life.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Saturday's concert was absolutely wonderful and raised a good sum for the Air Training Corps cadets, also for Essex Police Memorial Fund. Thanks to everyone for coming along and warm thanks to all those great singers from Chelmsford.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007



“Those of us who live in Essex know that our county has some of the finest choirs in the country,” was the comment of one enthusiast who loves music and song.

Chelmsford, however – our county town – has many singing groups and is appropriately the home of the Essex Police Choir. This was formed in 1989 and is now considered to be one of the very best. It enjoys its excellent reputation for fine singing, both in this country and abroad and its membership is drawn, not only from present officers of all ranks, civilian support staff, but also friends of Essex Police.

“The aim of our choir is obviously to enjoy ourselves – singing is one of the most wonderful pastimes - but an important aspect is to help raise fund for charities and to promote good policing relations with the general public,” said its Chairman, Peter Simpson OBE.

Since its inception, the Choir has raised almost £200,000 for Essex based charities as a result of performing 225 concerts. This work supports their chosen charities which are selected annually. This year, they will support the Broomfield Urology Department who need to purchase laser equipment.

The Choir consists of around 50 singing members including Musical Director Norman Eastbrook MBE and its Deputy Musical Director, the talented accompanist, Doreen Potter. They have a wide-ranging repertoire, including popular music, arrangements from the shows, spirituals and traditional secular music. In addition to the Choirs concerts in Essex, they have also performed in Canada, France, the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Billericay is preparing to welcome the Essex Police Choir on Saturday lst December when they will be singing at the lovely circular Emmanuel Church, Laindon Road. The EPC are often joined by superb soloists and on Saturday the group ‘Musicality’ starring Doreen Potter, Fiona Whittaker and Wayne Carpenter will be present. The Choir’s first CD was well received and their second A Grand Night for Singing will be on sale soon.

Saturday’s Festive Concert is sponsored by the Air Training Corps and the cadets will be attending with their Commanding Officer, Flt.Lt Steve Horncastle. Songs from the shows, followed by traditional Christmas music and carols are on the agenda and tickets at£8.50 can be obtained by phoning 01277 623013 or from the door. This includes wine. The concert starts 7.00 for 7.30pm.

Monday, November 05, 2007



Next week, Elizabeth Wallace arrives from Denver, Colorado to launch her new book in England. In her book, Elizabeth describes the life and times of the people in the county at Christmas. She outlines the life of the rich and the poor and how they celebrated. Many of the folk migrated to Essex from the London area and, of course, they brought with them their distinctive customs and traditions that are still used at Christmas-time.

Christmas Past in Essex offers the reader an extraordinary historical glimpse into lives of the people of Essex. From the little girl who fondly recalls her Christmases in an orphanage to Jack Bartlett, the Billericay postman who diligently delivered the post and then returned home to fall asleep over his Christmas dinner. There are scores of wonderful stories and excellent photographs, many of which have never before been published.

As Elizabeth collected the wonderful memories and treasured photographs, she was mindful of the responsibility placed in her hands. To this end, she recorded the memoirs verbatim, and was therefore able to keep the individual’s voice and essence. There are more than 60 fascinating photographs, original artwork from Essex artists and over one hundred intriguing stories, customs and traditions contained in Christmas Past in Essex.

Elizabeth hopes that readers will enjoy the stories and photographs contained in Christmas Past in Essex and in doing so will rekindle pleasant memories of their own Christmases that will be handed down to future generations.

Publisher: Tempus Publishing ISBN-13: 978-0752444635 £9.99

Thursday, November 01, 2007




For months now the stores have been stocking up and preparing for the great onslaught of festive shopping The huge cavalcade of planning, buying, gift wrapping, cooking and Christmas card sending is well underway, yet there are still weeks to go. Each year, this massive shopping race seems to start earlier and children’s hopes are raised as TV and in-store advertising becomes more flamboyant.

It’s easy to forget that Christmas will not be fun for everyone, particularly the lonely and needy folk around the world. But there are many groups of people in Essex who are aware of this, mindful of children who will have little chance of receiving gifts at this universally festive time.

One person who not only knows about the sad state of children overseas, but does something about it, is Maggie Beale, a Billericay-based volunteer who sets aside each year time to travel to Chelmsford to take part in "Operation Christmas Child". This project is organised by "Samaritan’s Purse", an International Relief Charity whose warehouse headquarters are in Robjohn’s Road, Chelmsford.

Maggie, who works around the year making and buying gifts for children from 2 to 14, is enthusiastic about her chosen charity. She said: "The plan is to provide gift-filled shoe boxes to some of the neediest children in the world. Since its start in 1990, more than 47 million children have received a shoebox and last year alone the UK 18 million boxes to children in 13 countries.

"As a local volunteer this is a particularly busy time at our nearest warehouse in Chelmsford where we check, sort and top-up shoe boxes to ensure that they comply with various import regulations and that the contents are suitable for the boys and girls of the various age groups. Before they are sealed, packed and transported to their final destinations. Last year we sent 67,051 boxes from our warehouse alone, to children in Kyrgyzstan, India, Ukraine, Bosnia and Serbia.

"The mainstay of our operation is the group of schools, nurseries, churches, voluntary organisations and individuals who donate filled shoe boxes for collection between 4th and 20th November to allow sufficient time for transporting around the world in this Annual Project.

"Although the busy period is upon us, I get great pleasure throughout the year making, buying and collecting things that will ultimately put a smile on a child’s face. I am proud to work with the team of volunteers to help ensure the gift of happiness to children who otherwise would receive nothing. For more information on this year’s appeal see the website at and perhaps be inspired to help or contribute next year."

Friday, October 26, 2007


Thanksgiving Connection

The story leading up to the US Thanksgiving tradition has interesting Billericay connections. It was from our town - on 6 September 1620 that six townsfolk joined the contingent of Puritan emigrants who boarded the Mayflower ship at Plymouth. Christopher Martin, who is believed to have lived at the Chantry House at 57-61 High Street, was the ship’s victualler who supplied the food for the voyage, including flour ground at the Bell Hill windmill.

Martin’s wife, wife Marie, step-son Solomon and servant John Langemore embarked with Peter Browne,Richard Britteridge, two other emigrants, who lived in neighbouring Little Burstead. Conditions during the 66-day voyage across the Atlantic were awful. The Mayflower was terribly overcrowded. The crossing was so stormy that it cracked a main beam of the ship but the ingenious use of a printing-press as a screw-jack to support the beam, enabled the ship to hold together. During the journey, one person died and two boys were born, Peregrine White and the aptly named Oceanus Hopkins,

When the Pilgrims reached Cape Cod they ‘fell upon their knees and blessed ye God of Heaven who had brought them over ye vast and furious ocean’. Sadly, the folk from Billericay died shortly after reaching America.

Attempts by the newcomers to provide food were pitiful. During the first month they caught only one cod. In January 1621 they caught three seals and shot an eagle. Mostly they lived on shellfish from the beaches and nuts from the woods. By spring, half had died from scurvy or starvation. Then into their lives came Samoset and Squanto, two Indians who showed the Englishmen how to live off the land. By the end of their first summer in America, the newcomers were able to celebrate their harvest with a thanksgiving feast.

They invited the local Indians to join them. Four men were sent to shoot wildfowl and returned with a modest bag. But their guest of honour the Indian chief Massasoit turned up with an escort of no less than 90 hungry braves. The Indians were able to bring in five deer after a brief hunting expedition; somehow there was enough food for all.

The Pilgrims continued to hold this ‘thanksgiving’ feast in succeeding years, gradually adding dishes traditionally associated with it. Other New Englanders adopted the custom and when they travelled westwards, took it with them. But it was not until 1863, during America’s Civil War that President Lincoln issued a White House proclamation calling on the “American people wherever they lived to unite with one heart and one voice”.

By courtesy of... Essex Life and Billericay Weekly News - Newsquest.


5 JANUARY 2008
Time: 10 am-12.30 pm at the Recreation Rooms, Billericay High St.
Aged between 9 and 90? Male with 2 legs? Need to work off that Xmas tummy? Ever fancied a go at Morris dancing? This is your chance with no strings attached. Mayflower Morris Men will be hosting a have-a-go morning of dance for complete beginners with two left feet - no pressure - totally free - just for fun - bring your friends. Refreshments. Tel. 01268 710709.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Essex is a fascinating county. During my travels, I collected many intriguing stories that I felt belonged under the folkloric umbrella. The Oxford English Dictionary defines folklore as the ‘traditional beliefs customs, songs and stories, preserved in oral tradition among people; the branch of knowledge that deals with these; popular fantasy or belief.’ Well, the material I gathered certainly fell within this remit. Along the way, I met Darren Mann from the Paranormal Society who passed on numerous ghost stories connected with Essex. Many people with knowledge of witches were obliging in supplying fascinating background material and the Witch Museum staff in Boscastle, Cornwall were also helpful. The Folklore Society staff kindly arranged for me to view some of their huge collection of books on folklore which is held at University College London.

I also appreciated help from the British Library, Colindale Library, English Folk Dance and Song Society and Essex Museums and Libraries. Readers will learn about our ancient Dunmow Flitch ceremony, Fairlop Fair that so intrigued Charles Dickens; the Whispering Court at Rochford and dozens of other traditions peculiar only to Essex. Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp - two important luminaries responsible for the growth of folk song and dance in 1903 - have several pages dedicated to their work in England. The book’s cover personifies William Shakespeare’s contemporary, Will Kemp, whose agile, distinctive figure appears on the book’s front cover, ‘ dancing the Morris’ on his way from London to Norwich through Essex during his ‘Nine Days Wonder’ during Lent 1599.

I'm still signing books and meeting people who seem to enjoy reading about their county’s traditions, legends, dialect and stories that have been handed down through generations. Extracts from the book have been included within BBC Radio Essex, Phoenix FM Radio and BBC Radio 2 productions.Publisher: Tempus Publications ISBN 0-7524-36777

Tuesday, October 23, 2007



Brentwood Writer's Circle was born in May 1941. Our founder, Elizabeth Baxter had problems in travelling to her favourite writers's group in the City, well, it was being bombed at the time as there was a war on! Undaunted, she started one herself, in the front parlour of her home in Brentwood. Now, 67 years later the Circle has full membership of sixty who meet monthly at the Ursuline Convent (Fairview Room), where members are encouraged in every aspect of prose writing. A workshop is held on alternate months providing opportunities for mutual criticism and exchange of ideas between writers. It provides members with advice and guidance on markets and other matters pertaining to their writing, while speakers (authors, publishers, agents etc) fill our diary in other months to make an interesting yearly programme.


TRANSFORMATION AT BILLERICAY On Wednesday, Lord Hanningfield and John Baron MP visited St Mary Magdalen Church in Billericay High Street to see the progress of the four-year project to transform the church into such a precious asset for the whole community. Essex County Council contributed £15,OOO from its Community Initiative Fund and other generous groups provided financial help towards the £200,000 required.
Also present was Chief of Development, Alan Campbell and the Reverend Elwin Cockett. A booklet is available describing the provenance of the church. This also outlines the history of this lovely little town. The slim book is on sale at the Story Teller, Presence Shop and, of course, from the church.Labels:

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Brilliant book launch on 11 October of Malcolm Burgess’ new book FORTY-FIED – funny and certain to be a best seller. Malcolm, busy journalist, scriptwriter and author of other books including the best-selling I HATE THE OFFICE, was on top form and welcomed many friends, family and, of course, his readers. His book ISBN 978-1840468-23-6 is published by Icon Books.

The cabaret was great. Fabulous Sue Kelvin who recently appeared in Chicago and Fiddler on the Roof, Sarah Travis, whose orchestration in Sweeney Todd brought her a Tony Award and lovely Jo Lee, Chelmsford based star, who has appeared in so many top shows in London were all superb. Here they are with the star of the evening, Malcolm.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Many thanks to Caroline Dubanchet of the superb LONDON ESSENCE on-line magazine for allowing my article to be reproduced here. To read this and previously commissioned essays, plus bang-up-to-the-minute London news in eight languages, log on to Caroline's website at LONDON ESSENCE.

Westminster is arguably London's most famous - and historical area - the seat of England's government for almost a thousand years. The name is also used for the larger City of Westminster which covers a wider geographical area and since the mid-60s has included the former boroughs of St Marylebone and Paddington.

The historic core of Westminster is the former Thorney Island on which Westminster Abbey was built. The Abbey became the traditional and historical venue of the coronation of the kings and queens of England. The nearby Palace of Westminster, in later centuries, housed the developing Parliament and law courts.

Politics were confined to men for centuries until the introduction into Parliament of the American-born politician Nancy Astor (1879-1964). She married her second husband, Waldorf Astor (later Lord Astor of Hever), the MP for Plymouth, Devon on 3 May 1906. She developed a passion for politics and took over his Plymouth Sutton seat when he moved into the Lords on inheriting his father's viscountcy. On lst December 1919, she was introduced into the Houses of Parliament Chamber, accompanied on either side, by Arthur Balfour and David Lloyd George. She wore a black coat and skirt with white blouse and black tricorn hat. Punch described her as "demurely, but daintily, garbed".

The Astor family were immensely rich, owning Cliveden mansion in Berkshire, a home in Plymouth, but primarily she lived at her lovely home at 4 St James's Square, Westminster. She remained a Conservative Member of Parliament for the next 25 years.

In the annals of history, Lady Nancy Astor was one of Westminster's most famous and colourful personalities.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007



At last, Elizabeth Wallace's superb book is about to be launched in England. Christmas Past in Essex is fascinating. Elizabeth describes the life and times of the people in the county at this special time of the year. She outlines the life of the rich and the poor and how they celebrated. Many of the folk migrated to Essex from the London area and, of course, they brought with them their distinctive customs and traditions that are still used at Christmas-time.

Christmas Past in Essex offers the reader an extraordinary historical glimpse into lives of the people of Essex. From the little girl who fondly recalls her Christmases in an orphanage to jack Bartlett, the Billericay postman who diligently delivered the post and then returned home to fall asleep over his Christmas dinner. There are scores of wonderful stories and excellent photographs, many of which have never before been published.

As Elizabeth collected the wonderful memories and treasured photographs, she was mindful of the responsibility placed in her hands. To this end, she recorded the memoirs verbatim, and was therefore able to keep the individual’s voice and essence. There are more than 60 fascinating photographs, original artwork from Essex artists and over one hundred intriguing stories, customs and traditions contained in Christmas Past in Essex.

Elizabeth hopes that readers will enjoy the stories and photographs contained in Christmas Past in Essex and in doing so will rekindle pleasant memories of their own Christmases that will be handed down to future generations.

Publisher: Tempus Publishing ISBN-13: 978-0752444635 £9.99

Monday, September 17, 2007


Billericay Workhouse, later St Andrew's Hospital and now superb apartments. The story behind this important historical part of the town was told in the latest edition of the Billericay Weekly News. A fascinating exhibition is on display at the Cater Museum at 74 High Street, Billericay. We need stories, photographs and memorabilia of this fine 160-year-old building designed by the distinguished Victorian architect, George Gilbert Scott. Contact The Curator at the Cater Museum 01277 622023.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Many Chelmsford folk including their Mayor and Mayoress, visited Hanningfield Reservoir on Sunday, along with thousands of others to witness the famous Dragon Boat Race. The Lords Petre and Hanningfield were at the waterside as sixteen teams competed in this spectacular event - the first of its kind on the Reservoir. Lord Hanningfield dotted the eyes on the dragon and threw rice in the air – a tradition linked to the Race which heralded the 50th anniversary celebrations of the creation of Hanningfield Reservoir – one of Essex’s most valuable treasures. Essex & Suffolk Water - part of the Northumbrian Water Group – were responsible for providing the resources for this wonderful day alongside members of the Billericay Rotary Club. Local charities will benefit from substantial amounts raised from sponsorship of the teams taking part.

For many, it was a first-time visit - for others, the day at the Reservoir brought back memories of their childhood in this ancient hamlet of Peasdown, which, before the reservoir was built, was known as the Sandon Valley. Prior to work starting at Hanningfield in 1951, the families living at Giffords and Pynnings Farm and eleven cottages were re-housed and the properties demolished. Stone walls of the majestic 16th century Fremnells Manor with its 19-bedrooms, were used to provide the foundation of the reservoir’s dams.

Following the construction of the Reservoir – which took five years - and is the second largest in Essex - came employment of the staff, now 326. Longest serving employee has worked at Hanningfield for 46 years. 1.8 million Essex and Suffolk people living in arguably the driest part of the UK, are supplied with clean safe water which is pumped nine miles from the rivers Chelmer and Blackwater to fill the reservoir. The average water depth is 7.62 metres (25 feet) and maximum is 16.76 metres (55 feet). When full, the Reservoir holds over 26 billion litres.
Trout fishing at Hanningfied is renowned; two angling clubs are based there and in 1998, John Hammond landed a whopping 24 pounder. In 1992 the Essex Wildlife Trust Reserve opened and provides a safe haven for hundreds of water birds to feed and breed. The area is designated an SSSI site, its 250 acres of woodland are appreciated by walkers as are the Essex Wildlife Trust Visitors’ Centre and Nature Reserve. And with Sunday’s Dragon Boat Races, the Reservoir has gained another generation of admirers.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Pakistan's President Musharraf


On their visit to Pakistan, some Billericay School Sixth form pupils presented President Musharraf with my fourth book as a gift from their town. THE BILLERICAY SCHOOL profiles not only the history of their school but of this small Essex town over many centuries. General Musharraf promised the scholars that he would find time to read about British education and the provenance of their school.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Book reprint

Brentwood Voices is to be reprinted soon. Many stories brought up to date.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Elizabeth Wallace's new book CHRISTMAS PAST IN ESSEX will soon be released by Tempus Publications of Stroud. I've had a chance to take an early peek through this intriguing book which Elizabeth, an Essex-born girl, has researched and written over the last year.During her search for Christmas stories, she interviewed many interesting folk from different walks of life.

However sophisticated many of us think we are, we tend to hark back to our childhood at this special time of the year. So we learn how the rich celebrated Christmas and also the poor. We discover how doctors, firefighters, postmen and the myriad of other Essex people who were forced to work their shifts and duties, still managed to enjoy Christmas. Often, there were no expensive toys around as there are today, but still children seemed to have had a lot of fun with, in many cases, very little due to the deprivations of post-war austerity.

Elizabeth gives us more than sixty photographs and sketches, many of which have never been published. Cherished photographs were taken from frames and albums to be included in this book. Every part of Essex is included, from Epping to Southend, Saffron Walden to Romford.Even though Elizabeth now lives five thousand miles away in Denver, Colorado, her heart is never far from her family, friends and the wonderful people of Essex.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chelmsford Essex- based anthropologist, scholar, former teacher and author, Dennis Olding is well known for his extensive knowledge of American Indian culture. But it was not until 1997 that he discovered the important connection between Essex, England and the famous Rappahannock Indian Tribe of Virginia.

During the preparations for the commemoration on both sides of the Atlantic of the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in the future U.S.A. which was at Jamestown, Mr. Olding's knowledge of Indian culture has been indispensable. Added to this is his friendship with a prominent Virginian Indian - Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe.

In Mr. Olding's recently published book, "Newport, James City & the Powhatans," he tells the story of how, on 4 May 1607, the then Rappahannock Chief met Captain Christopher Newport of Harwich at Paspahegh. Mr. Olding describes Christopher Newport as "the founder of the Commonwealth outside Europe, from the small beginning at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The fact that Virginia left the Commonwealth in 1783 does not diminish this distinction."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tomorrow, 40,000 scouts attending the World Scout Jamboree in Chelmsford's Hylands Park will say goodbye after twelve days living in 'tent town'. The scouts and guides from 155 countries all reckon they have had a wonderful time at Chelmsford and the friendships will carry on over the years ahead. Robert Baden-Powell could never have envisaged on August lst 1907 just what his first little group of boys from would start when they arrived on Brownsea Island in Dorset. We now know there are 28 million Scouts within the global network and we can certainly be proud of our great UK contingent. As one veteran Scout Leader murmured: "If only the world's Peace Educators could be here today, what a lesson they would learn!"

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Following Saturday's launch by Prince William of the 21st World Scout Jamboree, there has been non stop action at the huge site at Hylands Park near Chelmsford, Essex. Yesterday saw the memorable Sunrise Ceremony at Hylands Park but also at Great Burstead where scouts, cubs and beavers took part and renewed their Scout Promise. Everyone enjoyed al fresco breakfast following the ceremony at 8.00am. Today we met many scouts from numerous countries including the Scouts of China, all having a great time during these twelve days in England.



Wonderful celebrations yesterday at Hylands House near Chelmsford and other places around the world. More than 40,000 scouts from 140 countries enjoyed 'Sunrise' where they renewed their Scout Promise. Images will arrive soon.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


By courtesy of Newsquest (Essex) England

To many Billericay newcomers, Fun Day at Sun Corner was just that – a relaxing afternoon for the people of the town. Billericay’s Mayflower Rotarians, supported by Billericay Squadron ATC, Lions Club and others, produced their usual great programme. The marching band, vintage cars, dog displays, Fire & Rescue dowsing the dramatic flames around the chip-pan, downtrodden Judy getting her comeuppance from nasty old Punch – to the amusement of the tinies - all topped off with candy floss and dribbling ice-cream.

Older members of the community will remember the equivalent of today’s Fun Day that happened annually in Billericay for more than a century - although under different names.
Billericay Sports Day – loved by townspeople was a regular event from the 1880s. Held on Farmer Quilter's field off the Laindon Road, its organisers were Fred Eales, Billericay’s saddler and Sammy Heard, the undertaker. Races were hugely popular. Watches, tea-sets and cutlery, given as prizes, were displayed in Fred’s saddlery shop-window weeks before the big day.
During one Veteran’s Walking Race with 86-year-old Iziah Cracknell in the lead, onlookers overhead taunts by his critics with the shout: "Keep your heels down Ziah" – needless to say, he always won his special race. Years before, in the late Victorian period, fairs and circuses drew people to Sun Corner field, first parading along the High Street and settling for a week dispensing entertainment. A local newspaper dated 28 October 1881 reported:

Mr Frederick’s travelling theatre arrived here last week and performances have been given nightly since. It stands in a meadow near the Sun Inn.’
Billericay’s own famous Rosaire circus family would often start their spring tour through England by first performing on Sun Corner field during the 1930s.
Within living memory we have the fund-raising fetes and pageants, photos of which are in many Billericay albums.
Mrs Annette Fowler remembers the fun of past carnivals, which always seemed to be blessed with sunny weather. "They were lovely occasions," she recalls, "the whole town turned out to see Jasper (Jake) Layland heading the procession on his ‘penny farthing’. Floats fashioned out of lorries and carts were decorated so that you couldn't see that they maybe the old coal-lorry or bread cart; colourful crepe paper was used to decorate the bicycles and prams. The carnival queen and her court were always the centre focus of the carnival. Lovely teas were organised for the children in Archer Hall and we all have wonderful memories of the time. Lots of money was gladly given for whatever the theme of the carnival was that year." Happily, things haven’t changed that much.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


After months of extensive refurbishment work, St Mary Magdalen - Billericay's Church in the High Street, opens its doors on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd July - St Mary Magdalen's patronal day.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Brentwood Writers' Circle

Saturday 2 June was our great Writers' Day celebration. Members and visitors welcomed Crime writer, Colin Dexter. He stayed with us the whole day, joining us for lunch and several lecture sessions where we learnt the background of how he writes 'Morse' and 'Lewis' TV programmes. We all enjoyed a wonderful, informative day

Saturday, May 12, 2007

JAMESTOWN 1607-2007

Dr. David A. Male

14 MAY 1607 - 2007

In Billericay, Essex, England the story of the Mayflower ship taking the Pilgrim Fathers (with six people from Great Burstead on board) to the New World in 1620 is familiar. Details of the epic voyage to Jamestown, Virginia which took place thirteen years earlier is currently the subject of great media interest, particularly as HRH Queen Elizabeth is currently in America.

Four hundred years ago, three ships left London’s ancient Blackwall pier. The 105 passengers from many parts of England, were destined for Virginia in the New World. Some historians have given Gold, Glory and God as the impetus for the journey. The colonists were sponsored by the London-based Virginia Company, who hoped to reap profits from the American coast. Another reason was to bring Christianity to the Indian people, but the most compelling was the alluring possibility of finding the legendary Northwest passage to the Orient.

The overall commander of the expedition to America was Harwich-born Captain Christopher Newport. The trio of ships – the Godspeed, Discovery and Newport’s flagship, the Susan Constant, reached Chesapeake Bay on 23rd April 1607 and the spot they eventually chose to make landfall – on 14th May was named in honour of James l.

The account of the new arrivals’ early attempts to forge a life in this brave New World has been told many times and doesn’t make easy reading. The small community suffered terrible hardships during those first years in America. There was conflict with local Indians; difficulties with climate, soil, disease and death came to a large proportion of them during the dreadful ‘Starving Time’ of 1608/9 which decimated the number of pioneers. But they overcame all of these hardships over ensuing centuries. Jamestown is now referred to as ‘the cradle of America,’ and Newport’s name is indelibly associated with its foundation.

On lst May 2007, members of the Harwich Society invited Mr Michael Macy - the American Cultural Attaché at London’s American Embassy - to unveil a plaque marking the life of Christopher Newport who’d played such a vital part in the first permanent settlement of Jamestown. Last week, our own Queen Elizabeth left England on a state visit to Virginia, where with President Bush, she is taking part in similar ceremonies, marking the 400 years of the landing.

As Harwich Society members, Mr Macy, the Mayor of Harwich, Council officials, historians and photographers gathered on Ha’penny Quay Centre, the newly published book "Christopher Newport – Worthy Seaman and Commander" was signed by its author, Dr David Male who has also written The Mayflower Expedition profiling Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower, who also lived in Harwich. Both books cana be obtained from the Harwich Society.

Friday, April 20, 2007


By permission of Newsquest Essex


Pepperell House – Brentwood’s Information Centre in its prime location at 44 High Street – enjoys a central position, its helpful staff providing a warm welcome to tourists and residents alike. Here you will find advice, maps and up-to-the-minute information, all aimed at helping to make visitors’ time in the town more enjoyable.

Many tourists are intrigued with this fine old building standing so close to the Chapel ruins. However, Brentwood residents appreciate how fortunate they are that this particular eighteenth century building hasn’t been demolished as has most of its neighbours. Until about fifty years ago, there were many similar large red brick buildings facing the unusually wide, formerly tree-lined, High Street. Built for the wealthier folk, many were private homes for the professional classes. Labour was cheap then and servants were usually crammed into the tiny attics. Pepperell House has retained these rooms as offices and to reach them you have to climb winding flights of stairs to approach them via creaky landings. One wonders if some of Brentwood Council staff and Chamber of Commerce folk who work within, have encountered the resident ghost!

Local Studies in Brentwood Library offer good research references to many of Brentwood’s fine old houses – some demolished – others which were refurbished and converted into shops, above which owners and managers often lived with their families.

Local historian John Fryer has written about the commercial side of Brentwood and has collected reminiscences and photographs of the people who once occupied the buildings.

Strangely though, there is little information about No 44. We have to look at the published recollections of one of the town’s earliest chroniclers, John Larkin (1850-1926) who used much of his wealth for the benefit of the citizens. He wrote in his "Fireside Talks" set in the 1860s, that he remembered Mr Quy at the address practising barber and haircutting services. As with many shopkeepers he obviously diversified and began selling toys and stoneware. Larkin wrote that he felt that the house had in earlier times been connected with the ancient St Thomas’s Chapel.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the building was the address of an auctioneer & estate agency, and this trend continued for many years through the partnership of Jinman and Richardson. Later, Thain & Richardson, that well-known partnership, followed by Douglas Allen Spiro. Other businesses have used the warren of offices until October 2002 when the property owner, Elsie Pepperell, died. She had spent much of her life in the town and bequeathed the premises for the use of the people of Brentwood. So this fine old building lives on with its new name, offering help to the community. For information: Telephone 01277 200300

Thursday, April 05, 2007



Early in summer 1942 war-torn Essex faced an invasion. More than 40,000 American servicemen from the 8th and 9th Army Airforce progressively established themselves within numerous newly built airbases throughout Essex. Between bloody air battles these young men drank our warm beer in timbered pubs on village greens and when peace was eventually declared three years later, many Essex girls sailed to the US as GI brides.

In 1943, more than 100,000 US servicemen were based in Britain and by D-Day – 6th June 1944 – more than half of the USAAF’s combat strength was concentrated in this island, mostly in East Anglia where most of the 8th Air Force and some of the 9th were located on almost 100 air bases.

I recently met Dennis Pittson who came to live in Billericay in 1961. As a teenager living in Walthamstow when the war was at its height he grew up to the sound of aero-engines. "We used to watch the dog fights over London sitting on top of the air-raid shelter," he recalls. Although not realising at the time, Dennis’s observations studying planes of all types was the start of a life-long interest and hobby of modelling RAF and USAAF fighter aircraft. When Dennis was called up in 1946, he chose the RAF.

During a six-month recuperation following an accident, Dennis began building model aircraft from kits, the first of which was the famous Spitfire. He created hundreds of model planes set on an airfield made from plastic sheeting. Initially these were displayed at North Weald Aces High, then at Blake Hall Airscene which had the benefit of a war-time memorabilia with a background of 1940s music. Sadly Blake Hall Air Museum has now closed.

With Dennis’s encyclopaedic knowledge of aircraft and airfields he’s amassed a huge music collection dedicated to Big Band war-time music, including 700 Glen Miller recordings.
Fortunately Dennis found a new home for his latest models, photographs, paintings and portfolio "History of Military Aviation 1914-1975" at Ridgewell Commemorative War Museum, near Wethersfield. Dennis’s models are part of the collection of World War II memorabilia displayed in and around the old hospital buildings behind the memorial which commemorates the USAAF 381st Bomb Group (H) and 90 Squadron RAF which served there.

Dennis and his wife Mavis are preparing to welcome visitors to Ridgewell War Museum on Sunday 8th April 11.00am-5pm. Among visitors will be families of those young Americans who lost their lives in service missions. The Museum is open on the second Sunday of each month from April - September. Free admission. For further details contact Curator Jim Tennet: 01787 277310.

(With kind permission of Newsquest Essex)

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Essex is especially rich in traditions, legends, songs and stories that have been handed down through the ages. Today, superstitions and old wives’ tales are as popular as ever and leading ghost sleuth Darren Mann believes Essex is one of the most haunted counties in the country. In this book Sylvia Kent’s lively account of life in Essex is well-researched and includes poems, songs, quotes from a variety of sources, and is accompanied by many illustrations. Kent deftly explores the origins and meanings of the folklore in Essex to reveal how the traditions of the past have influenced present customs and interests. Each chapter covers a particular aspect of folklore so the book is enjoyable in which to dip in and out. Every chapter is full of vivid details of real people and historical events that have inspired the Folklore of Essex published by Tempus Publishing Limited Price £14.99 ISBN: 0-7524-3677-5 Available from local bookshops or contact author

Sunday, March 25, 2007


(by kind permission of Newsquest Essex)

Although serious ‘retail therapy’ takes place in Chelmsford’s shopping precincts, some more prudent customers still prefer buying in the market, just as their forebears have for centuries. Ancient records state that the ‘Markett Crosse’ at Chelmsford dating back to 1199 granted to Bishop William by King John, was much the place for both housewives and farmers. Close to St Mary’s churchyard, it also served as a site for executions and burnings at the stake.

From paintings and, much later, photographs, we can look back at the town’s agricultural life in Georgian and Victorian times, particularly on the all-important weekly market days - traditionally Friday. Townsfolk were used to the bollards and cattle pens as they dodged the animals and sturdy wagons making the High Street and Tindal Square area a tumult of noise and mess.

In 1880 the market was moved to a piece of land behind the Corn Exchange (demolished 1969) where Chancellor Hall stands today. This freed the High Street from the weekly disorder caused by the wagons and animals, although many folk remember seeing sheep being driven through the town until the late 1940s. “Chelmsford came alive on market day,” recalled 96-year-old Eva Baxter, “my father remembered seeing the cattle, newly purchased by farmers, being driven down Market Street, through Tindal Square, along Threadneedle Street and New Street destined for loading onto cattle trucks at the railway goods-yard. How would motorists react today?”

After World War II, a new site was chosen for the Livestock Market, off Victoria Road at Springfield Road end. In the 1960s, the existing retail market was given a permanent site on the ground floor of the multi-storey car park. It was here that Pauline and Brian Handley started trading in haberdashery that attracts customers from all over Essex. Brian recollects the early years:

“We began trading around 1964,” he remembers, “our stall was then outside near the cattle-market – not far from where we stand today. The stalls then had tin-corrugated roofs - imagine the noise when it rained? In winter we traded, despite snow and fog. Often frost would form on the underside of the roof. As the day warmed up, it thawed and dripped all over the stock. I still think those early years were the coldest I can remember, working outside for ten or more hours a day. I recollect setting up and packing up my stall in all sorts of weather conditions. As a young man I was told by the old-timers who had worked the markets for many years, that market-life was dying out and wouldn’t be around in a few years. But we are still here and it would be a terrible loss if something that has lasted for more than 800 years should die out. Markets are at the heart of a town - a prosperous market usually means a prosperous town!”


Straddle the saddle
(by permission of Newsquest Essex)

From its earliest days in the 19th century, the bike has reigned supreme. Cycling caught on with people from all classes and became all the rage during Victorian times. The bike was ubiquitous in Chelmsford as everywhere in England in the latter part of the 19th century.

The bike’s origins are interesting. It was the German born Baron von Drais von Sauerbronn, who, way back in 1818 patented the first crude bike. This consisted of a wooden frame with two wheels, of which the rear was fixed and the front mounted in a pivoted fork. The machine was propelled by the feet. The rider pushed himself along with a striking action and the pivoted front wheel enabled him to maintain balance and change direction. Among the names used to describe this invention, were draisine, hobby horse and pedestrian curricles.

Cartoonists and comic satirists of the time enjoyed creating amusing images which appeared in contemporary ‘penny dreadfuls’ and Punch. It was only in 1839 when the Scottish blacksmith, Kirkpatrick MacMillan fitted cranks to drive the rear wheel, that pedaling became easier. Then the Parisian engineer Ernest Michaux introduced the ‘boneshaker bicycle in 1865.which was followed twenty years later when J B Dunlop brought his rubber pneumatic tyre into the picture. And of course we had the ‘penny farthing’ which caused so many accidents but was popular. Innovators and inventors contributed their patents and developments over the years until we have the cycle we know today.

Between the two World Wars, cycling clubs sprang up and youth hostelling was fashionable. Chelmsford folk would buy their cycles from Newcombes cycle shop and Mr George Page would repair and fix wheels and tyres for his customers from his small workshop at the side of the Rose and Crown. In later times, Mr Cass catered for his customers and latterly firms such as Halfords, among others, came into the business within Chelmsford.

And it hasn’t stopped. Cycling is one of the healthiest of exercises and is an ideal opportunity for losing weight and keeping joints flexible. Recently Elli Constantatou, Tourism Programme Manager for Essex Development & Regeneration Agency who lives in Chelmsford, devised a set of nine individual maps giving easy-ride routes covering the most attractive parts of Essex. “Cycling is a wonderful way of seeing the Essex countryside,” said Elli and BBC Essex presenters Steve Scruton and Angela Lodge are swapping their walking boots for cycle clips on Saturday 5 May for the launch of Cycle Essex. This great event is linked to the Helen Rollason Heal Cancer Charity, based in Chelmsford.

Real Essex cycle guides are available from tourist information centres or by visiting More information on the sponsored charity cycle event can be found at

Brentwood Writers' Circle Chairman launches new book

(By permission of Newsquest Essex}

He’s done it again! Jim Reeve, chairman of Brentwood Writers’ Circle has seen record sales of his brand new book MEMORIES OF BASILDON, which was launched at Christmas. With several signings in Basildon, Billericay and recordings on BBC Essex, he is pleased with its success. Jim’s first book Wickford Memories has also been a favourite with many local folk.
From more than forty people of all ages, the author has collected personal stories which scan more than half a century of the town’s existence in its modern form. Its roots are linked to the decision of the Land Company at the end of the 19th century to purchase land from cash-strapped farmers and sell it on in plots for as little as £7. Many people living in cramped East End housing responded to the posters advertising the benefits of the country and the joys of plotland living.

One of Jim’s contributors, Elsie Hill recollects: "At weekends and school holidays we came down by train from London. On the train there would be lots of week-enders loaded with cases, rexine bags, building materials and short lengths of fishbox wood tied with string. Mum and Dad found it a long haul from Laindon Station to our plot at Old Hill Avenue with two small children, a pram, dog, food, tools and building materials. When we reached our plot, we hoisted our flag to show we had arrived and put the kettle on the fire on the bank outside. The return journey on Sunday night was just as exciting, each passenger loaded with flowers and vegetables from their plots."

Gradually, the occupiers built more substantial buildings but they had no running water, electricity or sanitary arrangements. ‘Bucket and chuck it’ was the order of the day.
Basildon was one of seven ‘new towns’ established as a result of the 1946 New Towns Act introduced by the Labour Government. Jim has now retired from his job with the Basildon Development Corporation but he himself remembers many of the plotlanders and has personally observed the tremendous growth in population, new estates, factories and firms that have generated an enormous supporting infrastructure.

Jim’s collections of anecdotes are funny, poignant and wonderfully entertaining. We learn about the pioneers’ work, education, worship and how folk people enjoyed themselves in this now huge, modern town which is steadily growing. This well-illustrated book offers readers a fascinating view of an Essex town.
Memories of Basildon by Jim Reeve
Tempus Publications £12.99
ISBN NO 0-7524-3819-0



Famous for his whimsical morning contributions to BBC Radio 4’s "Thought for the Day", well-known broadcaster, Rabbi Lionel Blue recently expressed his passion for charity shops. "I’m addicted," he said "Can’t pass by – just have to wander in – and rarely come out without some treasure!"

Lots of other folk love them, too and support the aid they give to people desperately in need in countries worldwide. It’s 60 years since the first Oxfam shop opened in Broad Street, Oxford, although the idea was conceived in 1942. This was when the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was established. It wasn’t until 1963 that the committee shortened its name to Oxfam – it’s old telegraph address. Now there are more than 800 Oxfam shops in England, one of which has been at 45 Billericay High Street for many years.
There are five more charity shops in the High Street: Hamelin Trust at No 16, Barnado’s at No 35, Cancer Research at No 123, Sense at No 119 and Marie Curie Cancer Care at No 130. Little is written about the tremendous work carried out by charity shop volunteers. Always cheerful, they turn up on time and work their rota, receiving the bags of new and second-hand clothes, books and household merchandise. They steam, mend, and make the goods more presentable for customers. Often, their expertise in a particular job, such as the former librarian who can detect a valuable second-hand book or the ex-jeweller who spots the true value of an antique ring can be of assistance to the manager of a charity shop.

"I love my work," a volunteer said recently. "When I retired a few years ago, I missed the companionship of working with people - this job has given me the chance of doing something useful. I like helping customers who come in and having a good chat as they seek their bargain!"
Although these days charity shops are now bright, clean and more upmarket than those of years ago – and their turnover has increased - some staff have experienced the odd theft, unfortunate when the shop’s aim is to help the underprivileged.
"Just before Christmas, we found some valuable ornaments had been removed from the shelf," said one shop manager "A rotten thing to happen, as the thieves obviously knew their value." On checking with other charity shops, sadly this isn’t an isolated incident and in one case, a designer wedding-dress was whipped off the shop dummy in seconds. Staff are now especially vigilant.

As part of their spring promotions, Marie Curie’s manager, Chris Bartley and her staff are currently preparing to launch their "Great Daffodil Appeal" on Saturday 10 March. Golden balloons, sweets and of course daffodils are at the ready. "We’re looking forward to welcoming customers, old and new, and hope we can also attract more volunteers," said Chris.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


“Going to the pictures was the highlight of our week!” Local resident, Jim Hall was one of the town’s regular cinema-goers. “You got a lot for your one-and-sixpenny ticket,” he recalled. “As well as the A and B films, there was usually a cartoon, Pathe newsreel, trailers and adverts. With a continuous programme, if you arrived part-way through a film, you stayed to watch the beginning later!”

The names given to theatres then were flamboyant. Among a variety of picture-houses, the Ritz opened in 1935 in Baddow Road. This was the 49th cinema under the control of a chain of cinemas and boasted 1,750 seats with a spacious ballroom/restaurant. Just before WWII, it was taken over by the Odeon before passing to the Rank Organisation in 1948. The name ‘Odeon’ derives from the name for a theatre in ancient Greece.

Perhaps only older residents remember the Empire Picture House in Springfield Road. Built in 1912, it was popular when it came under the eventual ownership of Eastern Counties Cinemas. In 1940 it was damaged by fire and was used as a foodstore before becoming derelict and ripe for demolition in 1961.

The Pavilion in Rainsford Road was popular. With its highly decorated facade, it opened in 1920 during the silent film era. This cinema closed in June1988 and stood empty until it was converted to Laser Quest Game Centre, then Zeus nightclub.

Many remember the Picture House in New Writtle Road, which in 1912, had been converted from an old foundry. This underwent several name changes until it became the Select Super in 1991. This cinema was the first in Essex to be remodelled for Cinemascope in 1953 when it underwent huge refurbishment.

In time, the old theatres became redundant as television eclipsed regular cinema-going. For a while, bingo was played in some of the buildings, but eventually they were demolished or their use changed.

But still standing in Moulsham Street, is the grandly decorated Regent Theatre. This harks back to the theatre architecture of earlier times. Built in 1913 the management ran Variety shows as well as early silent film (with piano accompaniment). Local press advertisements declared Chelmsford as leading the county in this amazing novelty and in August 1929 “The Singing Fool;” starring Al Jolson delighted packed audiences. The Regent was built on the site of the ancient Crossed Keys Inn and today although no longer a cinema, seems from the outside, a fascinating relic of a past age.

When the multiplex Odeon in The Meadows, Baddow Road opened in October 1993 it had four auditoria, which has grown to eight with Dolby stereo-sound. It stands just metres from the former Ritz/Odeon site.

Perhaps the most interesting venue for viewing is at the Cramphorn Theatre, Fairfield Road where members of the Chelmsford Film Club meet regularly to enjoy some of the world’s most fascinating films. For Details: 01277 622716

By permission of Chelmsford Weekly News

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Shenfield Pond in the Snow

It’s strange how wintry weather changes our familiar countryside. Shenfield Common, which encompasses the familiar wood-fringed millpond, takes on a decidedly ethereal aspect in the snow. What a contrast to the Common’s summer backcloth against which many bridal couples pose after trooping across the road from the Register Office opposite. Children, photographers and artists love the current snow-scene. In years gone by, locals would bring out their skates and twirl happily on the frozen millpond.

The Common has served many purposes to locals over the centuries. Once people lived there in make-shift tents and grazed their ponies and donkeys. Cock-fighting, badger-baiting and bare-knuckled fighting attracted many and here swine-dealers killed their animals. Gorse and firewood were gathered and gravel shovelled. Throughout the centuries, the Common provided a communal place for festivities, political meetings, sport-days, and, in later years, church worship and open-air concerts.

Check out the 1777 Chapman and Andre Map. You will see a small triangular pond is visible; it wasn’t until the snowy winter of 1885 that one of the new Conservators of the Common (a group established February 1884) suggested that the tiny pond alongside the millpond be joined to afford more room for skating in wintertime. In his book "Brentwood Fireside Tales 1906-26" John Larkin described how it came about:

"On summer evenings and early mornings came young men, old men and big boys. Some with picks, some with shovels, some with wheelbarrows. Working men, city clerks, bank clerks, shop assistants, and tradesmen – in fact all sorts and conditions of men set to work. Some picked, shovelled, wheeled away, whilst others went to the Artichoke for beer. So by shovelling, picking, wheeling, beer-drinking and working in black coats, cricket costumes, football jersey, velveteen coats and in shirt sleeves the job was finished and the mill pond as we see it now (1926) is evidence of what one can do by volunteer labour if men are of the mind."

Some folk may remember another pond, not deep enough for skating but many children loved sliding on it. Known as ‘How’s Folly’, this was on the far side of the Common, running alongside Ingrave Road. It was dug out in 1856 by Mr How, a master at Brentwood School who lived at The Firs nearby.e had H How’s Folly pond lasted a century but was eventually filled in and willows planted on the spot. A third Shenfield pond still exists – only accessed through undergrowth near the Seven Arches Road, neglected now, but serving as a wonderful sanctuary for winter wildlife.

By permission of Chelmsford Weekly News