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