Tuesday, 15 March 2016


 Shire Hall

On the way back from a trip to Suffolk, there was just time for a short walk around Chelmsford, a city only since 2012, when it was awarded the status on the occasion of the Queen's Jubilee. I started at Shire Hall in Tindal Square at the top of the High St. It dates from 1790-2 and was designed by John Johnson. It is, said Pevsner, "a thoroughly civilised public building". The facade is very harmonious and well-composed.

Just behind Shire Hall lies Chelmsford's other main architectural treasure, the Cathedral of St Mary.

It is all too obvious that this is a parish church later elevated to cathedral status, in this case in 1913. The tower is the oldest part, dating from the 15th century, and there were significant additions and alterations in late Victorian times and in 1923.

Inside the cathedral is light and surprisingly colourful, with a wonderful Tudor style ceiling in the nave dating from 1899. The late 15th century piers were rebuilt by John Johnson, mentioned above, in 1801-3.

The church is surrounded by an irregularly sized church yard, with Victorian or late-Georgian houses on the New St side.

I headed up New St and crossed the inner ring road to reach the offices of the former Marconi works of 1912, once one of Chelmsford's principal employers. The whole site is now being redeveloped as apartments, having I think been empty for some long while.

I turned back towards the centre and then right into Victoria Road and on into Victoria Road South, where I found this imposing 1908 building, also recently done up. It was apparently the Law Building of the former Anglia Ruskin University central campus.

Back up Victoria Road South and into Duke St, to find the red brick County Hall of 1909. Clearly the years before the First World War were an important time for Chelmsford. Surprisingly it is not even mentioned in Pevsner.

It is in any event dwarfed by the newer stone County Hall next door, dating from 1935. It seems the earlier effort was soon found to be inadequate. This is in Pevsner, and he is scathing about it: "a sad anticlimax ... classical motifs handled loosely and without distinction ... it might be a bank in any city bigger than Chelmsford".

It is indeed curiously unimposing, but a closer look reveals that quite a lot of effort has gone in to the decoration of the facade.

Further along the street I enjoyed these nice sunflower panels on the first floor of a Victorian shop.

Duke Street leads back into Tindal Square where the 18th century Saracen's Head stands, surely a one-time coaching inn.

Conditions: grey.

Distance: about a mile and half.

Rating: three stars. My researches hasn't led me to expect much, and I wasn't wrong. I may have missed some other worthwhile buildings, but most in the central area are modern. In truth it doesn't really feel like a city and interestingly the road signs in from the A12 still refer to "town centre".

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