Chelmsford's secrets revealed: Ghosts, brothels and more
PUBLISHED: 10:02 31 May 2016 | UPDATED: 10:02 31 May 2016
Think you know Chelmsford? Think again. Jim Reeve, author of Secret Chelmsford, reveals some of this city’s secret history that you may well pass regularly without even realising it
As the county’s only city, you may think you know Chelmsford well. But there is a secret Chelmsford which lies below the outer façade of this city’s landscape as we know it and as you dig just a little deeper, you reveal many interesting facts about this settlement that boasts so much history within its boundaries.
For example, would you think for one moment that as you drive into Asda’s car park you are driving over a Neolithic burial ground or that a sword factory now spends eternity beneath Parkway car park?
Following Boudicca’s uprising in AD60/61, a military post called Caesaromagus was established on the Great Roman Road from London to Colchester. The post soon expanded and provided shelter for the troops marching along these routes. The Chelmsford we know today is a city that was borne from these origins of Caesaromagus, which means Caesar’s field.
When the Roman troops were called back to Rome in AD410, Britain was left to fend for itself and the bridge they had built over the river Can collapsed. It was an enterprising Saxon, named Ceolmaer, who started controlling a ford across the river and it is after him that Chelmsford gained its modern name.
It is difficult to believe that when William the Conqueror ordered the Doomsday Book in 1086, Chelmsford was described as a small, rural, farm containing just four families. The other half of the city to be, Moulsham, had 12.
Nevertheless, over time Chelmsford’s population grew and it has been home to many famous men and women over the centuries. As well as the famous contributions of men such as radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi, there are some lesser known stories of this city’s residents. General Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron of Chelmsford, was responsible for the British Army’s greatest defeat by a native army, when a column of his was defeated by the Zulus at the battle of Isandlwana. He was relieved of his command, but not before he had defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Ulundi in 1879.
Chelmsford’s Judge Tindal changed the law in a number of ways. His most famous case was when he defended Queen Caroline, wife of King George IV. She was accused of adultery with her Italian servant, Bartolomeo Pergami, but Tindal attained an acquittal.
In 1629 Thomas Hooker was a preacher at St Mary’s Church, now Chelmsford Cathedral, but he was persecuted because of his liberal teachings and as a result emigrated to America. He and Samuel Stone set up the colony of Connecticut and inspired The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. Some call him the father of America democracy.
From 1825 to 1914 there were 43 hangings at Springfield Prison. Many were carried out over the main gate, in full view of thousands of members of the public. This no doubt resulted in some haunting scenes, and Chelmsford is also well known for its ghostly goings on. Everybody loves a public house with a resident ghost, it would seem, and there are many in Chelmsford. The Spotted Dog that was in Tindal Street, until developers pulled it down, was the scene of a great tragedy in 1804. 13 Hanoverian soldiers were billeted in the stables at the back of the inn. During the night one of them decided to light his pipe and absent-mindedly knocked the ash out on the straw. Within minutes the building was in flames. The Germans’ shouts for help were not understood. They panicked when they found they could not undo the lock and, sadly, they all died in the flames. Today shopkeepers in The High Chelmer Shopping Centre are troubled by boxes unexpectedly being thrown about and it is suspected that it is the ghost of the soldier who was responsible for the tragedy.
The ghost of a traveller still haunts the White Horse Inn in Great Baddow. He was on his way to London but was murdered for his money and buried in the garden. For ten years his wife searched for him. Then, one day, she saw in a newspaper that a body had been found in the grounds of the White Horse. She was convinced it was her husband. She discovered that the old landlord who had murdered her husband was dead. Then his wife died but the stable hand, who was also involved in the murder, was publicly hanged. The maid, who knew of the murder and was bribed to keep quiet, was imprisoned.
If you are a woman and plan on visiting the 15th century Angel pub in Broomfield, be careful, as it is haunted by a ghost who prefers to appear to ladies. In days gone by, one room is said to have been used as a brothel.
The Riverside Inn is not without its secrets, having housed an estranged woman whose baby’s body was discovered in the river. The jury believed her story and she escaped the rope.
These are just a small sample of the secrets that are held by the great City of Chelmsford.
Get the Book
Secret Chelmsford by Jim Reeve is published by Amberley Books and is priced at £13.49. ISBN 9781445650357. For more details, visit www.amberley-books.com