London: Pt 21 – Chelmsford, Essex

Leaving London for the 2nd time on a trip out to the “Home Counties” of England, we arrived in Chelmsford, the newest City of England, in Essex for a brief stopover on our way towards Colchester…


Status: City of Chelmsford District, Essex, City, England

Date: 31/03/2015

Travel: Greater Anglia (London Liverpool Street – Chelmsford), Greater Anglia (Chelmsford – Colchester)

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Chelmsford Cathedral, Shire Hall, Council Offices, County Hall Blocks C & D, Central Baptist Church, Local Architecture, Central Park, Sir Nicholas Statue etc

Leaving the train station, we arrived at a double roundabout where 2 important roads meet, which are Duke Street (East & West) and Victoria Road (North & South). Gazing along Victoria Road South, we picked out a few landmarks amongst the various buildings, starting with that shown on the 1st picture, which I assume at some point in it’s life was owned and run by a Bank, judging by its architecture.

Right at the top of the building in the crescent shaped roof adjournment, there appears to be a coat of arms cut in stone, which looks like it is showing 3 crowns above each other. The coat of arms of Chelmsford features 4 white wavy lines interspliced with 3 similar blue lines, very different to that portrayed on the building, so I am unsure exactly what it represents.

Looking past the possible Bank building, you can see the tall rectangular tower of the Central Baptist Church, representing the Baptist portion of the Church going population of Chelmsford. Thanks to a kind email from the Church themselves after I enquired for some more details about it, I can tell you the following:

“The Church first began in 1905, meeting in temporary premises.  The building on Victoria Road South was designed by the architect William Haynes, from Frinton-on-Sea and opened in 1909. Between May 1999 and April 2001 the Church building was remodelled internally to its current design.”

Chelmsford 3

Chelmsford seems to have a lovely variety when it comes to architectural heritage, as you can see on the picture above. It depicts a large brick building that reminds me of Georgian designs, on the corner of Duke Street and Victoria Road. Just to the right you can see Victoria Road South and the Baptist Church in the background.

This particular building isn’t Listed, so I don’t have any more information I can give you about it, however it doesn’t appear to be in a modern style, so I would estimate it was built sometime in the 19th century. For some reason I rather like it, it stands out, and reminds me of old black and white pictures from the start of the 20th century, of corner shops etc.

Chelmsford 4

Continuing up Duke Street, heading East towards the city centre, we came across what are known as Blocks C & D, County Hall, which is actually 1 large building constructed in 2 halves.

The red brick section (D) to the right is the older of the 2, dating back to 1909, and the letters “ECC” are emblazoned on the outside next to the main entrance, standing for Essex County Council. To the left is the Portland Stone clad C, designed by J. Stuart. Construct began in 1929, and surprisingly was only completed in 1939, suggesting funding problems delayed its construction, as it’s a reasonably small structure to build.

Chelmsford 11

Block C fills up most of the block, as it continues down Threadneedle Street (shown above on the left) where it meets up with the newer additions to County Hall, Blocks A, B and E, modern concrete structures. Together the 5 blocks create 1 large complex, and houses Essex County Council, jurisdiction of which excludes the Unitary Authorities of Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock, and areas of the historic county which joined London in 1965.

Chelmsford has been the county town of Essex since 1218, hence the location of County Hall here. Chelmsford City Council is also located in the City, however in a separate building, on the area of Duke Street on the far side of the train station to that which we used to access the city centre.

Opposite County Hall, behind a row of small buildings, you will find Chelmsford Cathedral, a beautiful little building, separated from the hustle and bustle of the city, in a calm little Churchyard, with it’s distinctive spire visible from the railway line.

The building is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, St Peter & St Cedd, and like many Cathedrals it began life as a local Parish Church, sometime around Norman Times. Again like other Churches the fabric of the building isn’t original, and dates back to the 15th & 16th Centuries when the original building was rebuilt in its present form, with the oldest section being the Tower.

If you look closely at the building, the main Nave in the centre of the building is a different style to the rest of the building. This is because the original version collapsed in 1800, necessitating a rebuild by John Johnson (1732 – 1814, English Architect). The Church would later become a Cathedral in 1914, upon the creation of the new Diocese of Chelmsford, which covers Essex and a large part of North London.

Chelmsford 8

Leaving the pleasant surroundings of the Cathedral, we returned to Duke Street, and continued East to the very centre of the city, home to some of its most notable buildings, as shown above, starting with the HSBC building on the right, shown in more detail below.

Chelmsford 9

This charming early 20th century building was originally constructed for the National Provincial Bank, founded in 1833. It would trade as a standalone company until 1970 when it merged with NatWest (National Westminster Bank) so the name no longer appears on Britain’s high streets.

The building later passed into the hands of the Midland Bank, founded in Birmingham in 1836, which would also later be part of a merger, and is currently part of HSBC Bank, hence the name on the building. The Bank sits at the South end of Tindal Square, which also includes a large statue situated towards the road, of Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal (1776 – 1846, English Lawyer from Chelmsford, and MP for Wigtown Burghs/Harwich in Scotland) who was responsible for a number of notable occasions with respect to the law, including:

1) In 1820 he defended Queen Caroline of Brunswick (1768 – 1821, wife of the then King George IV from 1820 until her death the following year) during a trial in which she was accused of adultery. The charges were dropped and she was acquitted.

2) He saw the 1st use of “Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity” during a trial, which is now recognised as a legal defence all over the world.

The area his statue stands in, Tindal Square, was of course named after him, and recognises the various contributions he made to the field of law.

Chelmsford 10

I spoke before of John Johnson, who saw the creation of the new Nave of Chelmsford Cathedral after the former collapsed in 1800. He was also responsible for 1 of Chelmsford’s most famous buildings, the immaculate Shire Hall, which sits opposite the Bank/Statue of Sir Nicholas.

The Hall was effectively the original County Hall here in Chelmsford, as when it opened in 1791 various Civic Meetings were held here, which included the County Council. The building replaced its predecessor, which had been outgrown by the services required to run the county, and Johnson was selected to provide the new design, which required a number of houses on the site to be demolished before it could be built. Faced with stunning Portland Stone like the present County Hall, it was also used as a Corn Exchange, which featured on the lower floors, although the main doors/windows were too small and didn’t allow sufficient light for traders, and they would eventually get their own purpose built building elsewhere in the city.

I presume the Shire Hall remained in use until the 1st section of the large complex that is now County Hall opened in 1909. Today the Shire Hall is currently empty, although the County Council has opened up the floor to traders to move into the building, to help preserve it for the future, and keep it a working Hall.

Chelmsford 12

At the end of the day, after visiting Colchester as well, we had to get the train back to London, which also passed back through Chelmsford. On the way, we noticed a large park South of the city centre which the railway line runs close to, and I took this shot looking at the lake.

The park is called simply “Central Park”, which opened in 1894. It’s a pleasant, public open space, with fountains in the lake and it’s only half a mile away from County Hall by foot.

So that’s Chelmsford, famous as England’s newest Jubilee City, having been granted City Status in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, winning a competition in which various towns all over England submitted applications to become a city. Perth in Scotland, and St Asaph in Wales were also granted City Status, bringing the UK total to 69.

Chelmsford is an interesting city, with some stunning buildings, and a great location just half an hour out of London by train, with various services calling here, including those that run directly from London to Norwich in Norfolk, via Essex, as well as Colchester, the oldest recorded town in England, which would be our next stop. Chelmsford is also just half an hour away from London Stansted Airport, providing flights to a variety of destinations both within the UK and abroad. The UK’s largest airport, London Heathrow, lies to the South, just over an hour away using the M25, serving most destinations globally.

We moved on, towards Colchester, the famous Roman Town…


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