Chelmsford the cultural and county town of Essex
PUBLISHED: 16:12 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:39 20 February 2013
As our county town, Chelmsford also provides a cultural heartbeat with its museums, theatres and programme of arts events, explains Nicky Adams
Capital of culture
WHEN it first opened, 75 years ago, Chelmsford Museum was housed in the towns gaol. The museum was started by the Chelmsford Philosophical Society, whose founder member was also the gaols governor. Any eagle-eyed visitors to Chelmsford town centre may notice the plaque on the building next to the stone bridge in the High Street which marks the location of the old gaol, but there is no evidence of the museum there today.
Chelmsfords cultural heritage
is now cared for at Chelmsford Museum in the beautiful Grade II listed Oaklands House off New London Road. It has recently been extended and refurbished to make more space for Chelmsford Museum Services extensive collections of local artefacts, artwork and natural history. Memorabilia from the famous Essex Regiment, which has its own museum within the main town museum, will also benefit from nine months worth of renovation work at the museum, completed in January of this year.
But perhaps what sets Chelmsford apart as a capital for culture is the series of arts events in the town organised by the Chelmsford Borough Council Cultural Events Team, the only event management team that is part of a local authority in the county. This team is behind the programme of cultural events that take place throughout the year in Chelmsford. While the councils arts development team puts on community-based arts and education workshops it also gives advice to individuals and groups on arts projects. Chelmsford residents and visitors have certainly benefitted from the innovative work of the team which has masterminded cultural and arts events in the area over the last few years including ESSEXstreetdiversions, The 3foot People Festival, Twilight Spectacle and Celebrate Chelmsford.
Hylands House is set in 574 acres of public parkland and has recently been restored to its former glory
A big year ahead
Events lined up for 2010 include the Essex Global Gala in May, which will bring together communities from across the county to showcase their cultures through music, dance, stories, crafts and food as part of the Explore Culture One World Festival. The popular three-day 3Foot People Festival for under-fives will also be back this year and will consist of activities selected for the very young, including a giant sand pit, a soft play zone, shows and entertainers in Chelmsfords Central Park. The Fling A Festival of Assorted Amusements will offer innovative entertainment for the over-18s taking place in a tent village in Central Park in July and offering cabaret, music, performance poetry, comedy, silent disco and much more. Later in the year ESSEXstreetdiversions will also be back in the town centre with its own bizarre brand of outdoor performances.
Of course, these events build on a varied mix of cultural attractions in Chelmsford. Probably the towns most famous cultural landmark is Hylands House, an impressive Grade II* listed property which has recently been restored to its former glory and is set within 574 acres of historic landscaped public parkland. The house dates back to 1730 but has undergone various modifications during the years since and is now open to the public on Sundays and Mondays throughout the year. Pleasure gardens, originally designed by celebrated landscape gardener Sir Humphry Repton, and the parkland are open throughout the year. There is also a restored stable block which now houses a caf, a gift shop and the Friends of Hylands bookshop. Also part of the Stables Centre are artists workshops, which offer a chance for visitors to see local artists at work on Sundays and Mondays and even buy their work.
Local theatre lovers will already be aware that Chelmsford has its own West End where the Civic and Cramphorn Theatres, located next door to each other, put on a varied programme of professional touring productions as well as concerts, ballets, pantomimes, operas, comedies, musicals, film and live music as well as local amateur productions.
The Chelmsford Theatres are owned, managed and funded by Chelmsford Borough Council and the Civic is the largest of the two auditoria with 505 seats. The Cramphorn Theatre, meanwhile, is an intimate studio theatre seating up to 177 and puts on a programme of smaller-scale professional touring theatre, music productions, dance and lunchtime concerts, and is particularly well known for its film screenings, which run the gamut from art house and world cinema to mainstream movies. The Cramphorns live music nights also showcase the best local bands on the first Saturday of every month.
So why not take the time to explore our county town in greater depth?
You may just discover why it is a capital of culture.
Places of Interest
Located in Oaklands Park, the museum is open Mondays to Saturdays, 10am to 5pm, and on Sundays, 1pm to 4pm in the winter months and 2pm to 5pm throughout British Summer Time.
Admission is free
Open to the public on Sundays and Mondays throughout the year, as are the artists studios, while the parkland and The Stables visitor centre are open seven days a week, with the artist studios open on Sundays and Mondays.
For more information go to www.chelmsford.gov.uk or telephone Hylands Park on 01245 605520, Hylands House on 01245 605500 or the Stables Centre on 01245 605523
Civic and Cramphorn Theatres
Visit the theatre box office in Fairfield Road from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm (or until 15 minutes after curtain up) and on Sundays
until an hour prior to performance (to personal callers only). For info go to www.chelmsfordbc.gov.uk/theatres or call 01245 606505
Arts events in Chelmsford
Details of Chelmsfords cultural events programme can be found at www.chelmsford.gov.uk/events