Chelmsford, Essex, UK
Created | Updated Jun 26, 2009
Chelmsford is the county town of Essex. It has over 800 years of history behind it as a town. In 1999 it celebrated its 800th birthday. It was on 7 September, 1199, that King John granted the right to the landowner Bishop William of London to hold a weekly market there, and from this, the town as it exists today, was established and grew. However, it had existed before then in various forms, from Iron Age settlement, to Roman encampment (its Latin name, famously, was Caesaromagus), to the Norman conquest when French landowners replaced the Saxon aristocracy.
It was from Chelmsford, in 1901, that Guglielmo Marconi made the first ever transatlantic radio transmission, and the Marconi Company continues to have a strong presence in Chelmsford. Electronics and telecommunications have been a mainstay of local industry (for example, EEV's head office is in Waterhouse Lane), but these days Chelmsford is as much a commuter base as a centre for industry in its own right.
Although a thriving and prosperous town (which has often tried, but failed to achieve city status) Chelmsford is a very pleasant place to live, with an attractive central park, and numerous ancillary ones and two major rivers flowing through it1, and is a short trip from the countryside.
Despite not being a city (yet) Chelmsford has (confusingly) a cathedral, as well as (more confusingly) a football team called Chelmsford City Football Club.
Following the trend to turn polytechnics into universities, Chelmsford boasts its own university. The university is known as Anglia Polytechnic University, which on signs and stationery is shortened to APU. Since there is also an area of Chelmsford called Springfield, it seems reasonable to suggest that Chelmsford should really be a Mecca for fans of The Simpsons.
Meanwhile, at the secondary level, Chelmsford High School for Girls and King Edward VI Grammar School are two of the best performing grant-maintained schools in the UK. Both have achieved exceptionally high rankings with their GCSE results and A Levels2.
Chelmsford has a large and comfortable modern library, opened by Queen Elizabeth II in the late 1980s (the old library now houses the borough council offices). It also has a large and (presumably) less comfortable prison, famous as the location for the film version of the TV sitcom Porridge in the 1970s.
A sitcom relating more closely to Chelmsford (though not actually filmed there) was Chelmsford 123, a late 1980s, Blackadder-esque historical comedy set in the town's days as a Roman settlement. Stars of the show included Jimmy Mulville, Rory McGrath, and Neil Pearson, later of Drop the Dead Donkey fame.
Chelmsford plays host to the annual V festival3, as well as the home-grown Chelmsford Spectacular (both in Hylands Park)4.
Getting to (or, indeed, from) Chelmsford is easy. Chelmsford has its own railway station and its own bus station. The railway station has been renovated over the years to the point where it's really rather smart in a clinical sort of way. Trains run regularly to London's Liverpool Street station (which is about 40 minutes away), calling via Shenfield5, Romford, and Stratford. In the opposite direction trains run out to Colchester, Clacton-on-Sea, Ipswich, Harwich, and (on a good day, when Intercity trains are stopping) to Norwich.
The bus station, on the other hand, has fallen into disrepair. The newsagents/sweet shop has long been boarded up, and the whole place just reeks of neglect, or possibly of urine and cabbages. At the time of writing (October 2002), plans have just been unveiled for rather extensive renovations. Until those are completed, many residents and visitors consider the station an eyesore, which is unfortunate, as it is the central point for bus-catching in Chelmsford, and accordingly the first thing many people see when visiting the town. Services from here cover most of the county and beyond, including the Lakeside Shopping Centre, a regular service up to Broomfield Hospital (home of the A&E department for the area), Cambridge, Stansted Airport, and the National Express coach service to London (although the train is more frequent, probably quicker and not substantially more expensive).
To get to Chelmsford by road you'll use the A12 from London.
Things To Do in Chelmsford
The Odeon Cinema - Many years ago, Chelmsford had two cinemas, one called the Pavilion (which subsequently became a Laser Zone type of place, and is now the Zeus nightclub), and a single-screen Odeon. The Odeon closed, and then the Pavilion closed but was replaced by another cinema, called the Select. When that closed, Chelmsford was left for some considerable time with a grand total of no cinemas. However, this rather plush, modern, clean, state-of-the-art four-screen Odeon opened up a few years ago.
The Cramphorn Theatre - for further details see 'Theatres' below.
There are a fairly standard selection of fast food chains - Burger King, KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, etc - and a variety of fish & chip shops, kebab shops, pizza places, chicken places, and Chinese and Indian takeaways6. Classier places to dine include The Saracen's Head (a hotel, but the restaurant is open to the public), The Waterfront, and The New Street Brasserie.
The Chelmsford Museum, in Oaklands Park, does exactly what it says on the tin, being essentially an opportunity to explore the history of Chelmsford, from the Ice Age, through its Roman era, to the present day. It has a functioning beehive (watch the bees crawling about behind glass, and hope they don't get back in through the windows...) and is a very popular place with teachers and pupils.
There is also the Essex Regiment Museum. Again, the title is fairly self-explanatory.
The Bassment, on Wells Street (opposite the bus station) is a pleasantly fabby little place, although it has slightly low ceilings so anyone of about 5'10" or over has to duck a bit. They have a popular 1980s/'90s retro night, and also have live jazz evenings.
Duke's, on Duke Street, has been around for a long time, a very long time. It once hosted a personal appearance by Ricky Simmonds, who played Ant Jones in Grange Hill. That long. It's frequented mostly by sad teenagers who are trying to pretend that they're older than they are but haven't twigged to the fact that if they were older than they are, they wouldn't be seen dead in a place like Dukes.
Reds is on Barrack Square and appeals to the older clientele. Which in the words of nightclubs, probably means over 25.
The Y Club, at the YMCA on Victoria Road, used to be the haven for alternative music fans - indie, goth, that sort of thing. It was the place to go if you were a student after your fix of snakebite and black7. It's reportedly gone downhill since then.
Zeus, on Rainsford Road, is the place to go if you're into your kickin' Drum'n'Bass Garage sounds.
There are many of these in and around the town centre, such as The Rat and Parrot, The Globe, The Royal Steamer, Yates's Wine Lodge, and The Ship, as well as wine bars such as Edwards and THE8. Many of these are fairly homogenous. Some of the more distinctive ones follow:
The Angel, in the Broomfield area (to the north of central Chelmsford), is a pleasant pub which caters to the whole family, and serves some appetising food. It's spacious and it's got outdoor seating.
The Army and Navy, on Parkway (adjacent to the Army and Navy roundabout, although opinions vary as to which was named first, the pub or the roundabout) frequently plays host to live bands. Dogs D'Amour, The Mission, and All About Eve have all appeared there over the last few years.
The Plough and Sail is on Southend Road, Rettendon Common. It's way outside central Chelmsford, but it is being included here because on Thursday nights it plays host to a pop quiz which is wholeheartedly recommended.
Chelmsford has a thriving, bustling town centre, including two enclosed arcades, the Meadows and High Chelmer, and a packed high street, home to all of the usual stores - Debenham's, WH Smith, Woolworth's, Ottakar's, Waterstone's, HMV, Next and so on - as well as most banks. There's rather a paucity of supermarkets in the town centre, apart from Tesco (one in the town centre, and one just outside); Waitrose closed down a few years ago and Sainsbury's recently relocated to a large out-of-town location. There is a Co-op opposite the bus station, which is adequate but small and not very well stocked.
In addition to the confusingly titled football team, Chelmsford is host to a hockey club, of which both the mens' and ladies' first XIs9 play in their national leagues. Also, Essex County Cricket Club has its home ground in Chelmsford. Chelmsford also has a rugby club, an athletics club, and the Chieftains Ice Hockey team which plays in the English premier league. The latter are based at the Riverside Ice and Leisure Centre, which has many public facilities including three swimming pools, an ice skating arena, a gymnasium, and a sports hall.
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, at the Old Court Theatre on Springfield Road, is a small independent theatre. It does adaptations of Terry Pratchett's books.
The Civic Theatre is your basic, run-of-the-mill, provincial theatre. It plays host to a variety of touring productions, one-offs, the occasional gig, and the annual pantomime.
The Cramphorn Theatre is a more art-house type of thing. It also includes a cinema, which runs arty sorts of films.
If this is your kind of thing then apart from the aforementioned cathedral, Chelmsford plays host to churches for most Christian denominations, including Quakers, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Spiritualists and Christian Scientists. There is also a Mosque, near the Moulsham Street subway. There are no synagogues, though.