City Centred - A must see for Chelmsford.

by DannyUK

Chelmsford City has a rich heritage, and when there was an opportunity to learn more about it I jumped at the chance. City Centred is an exhibition at Chelmsford Museum by Yvonne Lawrence which celebrates the sights, sounds and smells of Chelmsford’s past.


As a self-confessed Chelmsford geek, I’ve been meaning to get to this exhibition since it opened in July. As always, life got in the way but knowing that time was running out (the exhibition ends on 2nd November) I was contacted by Yvonne herself and invited down to have a guided tour.

The exhibition is split into four sections. The first of which looks at Chelmsford’s changing High Street. It features original drawings by Derek Wilks showing how the High Street and Tindal Street looked at the turn on the 20th century. There are photographs and stories about places of interest and the people who lived in them. It also has comparative pictures of many of the sites today.

It was fantastic to see just how much the centre of the city has changed, with various shops coming, going and changing name. Yet throughout history the layout of the High Street has remained pretty much the same, with roads and buildings forming a familiar eye line in many of the photos.

The exhibition also reveals just how many pubs and inns lined the city centre. Sadly today only one of the original inns remain. The Saracens Head still has the distinctive alleyway used back in the day for horses and carts, yet sadly the pub shows little interest in celebrating the unique fact of being the sole surviving inn from the era.

Many of the original buildings that lined Conduit Street (now called Tindall Street) were demolished in 1969 to make way for the High Chelmer Shopping Centre. It’s a sad testament to Chelmsford’s past that the service area of a new shopping centre was deemed more important than the preservation of a strip of old shops and the Corn Exchange.

The room is set out in such a way that the walls and photos are lined up to reflect how the High Street appears from the stone bridge, it’s immediately obvious that the exhibition has had a great deal of thought put into it.

Our changing High Street. Set out to reflect the layout of the High Street itself, this photo shows the left side of the High Street looking towards the Lloyds Bank island near Waterstones.

The second part of the exhibition is the Time Travellers’ Guide to Chelmsford. Aimed more towards school kids, there are sections providing “rough guides” to where to stay, what to do, jobs available and things to avoid in nine different time periods dating from the Stone and Iron Age, through Roman and Tudor times to the Twentieth Century, and covering a total of nine different periods in time.

There is also five original maps of Chelmsford (dated 1200, 1400, 1600, 1800 and 1900) which have been newly created for the exhibition which feature points of interest from the displays.

Perhaps the part of the exhibition that I suspect will be most popular with kids is the specially designed smells of Chelmsford’s past which add a different dimension to the experience. From the stink of manure or rubbish dumps that would have been familiar centuries ago to the more pleasant “Granny’s kitchen” smell more common in recent decades, there are eight smells to engage with.

The third section of the exhibition is Illuminated and Hidden Chelmsford. A new model based on the 1951 Walker map of Chelmsford with 30 buttons linked to LED’s that light up to show places of interest, it is set against a modern road map overlay. Two pull-up banners nearby show the past and present photos of each feature.

It’s a very visual way of illustrating how things in Chelmsford have changed, and a great way of presenting the information.  With different colour bulbs to indicate demolished, existing or relocated buildings, it’s easy to see how much has changed at a glance.

The LED-rich Illuminated Chelmsford display.

The “hidden” section features two areas of Chelmsford history which are less well recorded - the Black and Asian presence and women of Chelmsford.  Working together with the local Chelmsford County High School for Girls and led by teacher Dr Helena Graham, the Black and Asian Chelmsford section was put together and includes the story of Joseph Freeman who was an escaped slave who came to Chelmsford from America and is buried in the city.

“Women of Chelmsford” was produced by museum assistant Samantha Wheele and contains the stories of five women with local links who made an impact.  This includes royalty, witch, murderer, campaigner and suffragette.  With some famous names mixed in with some relative obscure ones, it’s an interesting part of the day.


The last section in the Chelmsford Timeline banner which has been created for Chelmsford and matches key events in the past of the City against world events, starting from prehistoric times through to the present day, and is situated in the corridor outside the exhibition.

I spent a good two hours in the company of Yvonne going through the exhibition, and I still feel as if I want to revisit it soon to take in the little bits and pieces I’ve no doubt missed.

Taking a year to put together, it’s evident that the exhibition is a source of great pride to Yvonne and rightly so.  Despite merely taking up a small corner of the museum (and this post hasn’t even touched on the vast amount of information hidden away around the rest of the museum) it can easily capture the imagination of young and old alike for hours.

The smells that make up part of the Time Travellers’ Guide to Chelmsford are an interesting addition, and one that I can’t wait for my kids to see as I think they will actively get involved in trying the various smells.

Smell me! It’s like a Lewis Carroll story. Maybe there was a “Drink Me!” sign nearby… (there wasn’t…)

The exhibition ends a 3 month run on 2nd November, which is a crying shame, and I hope that Chelmsford Museum find a way to either extend it or to move it and make it permanent as it is a fascinating insight into a city that so often neglects the past.

The exhibition runs until 2nd November at Chelmsford Museum, Oaklands House, Oaklands Park, Moulsham Street, Chelmsford, CM2 9AQ and is open daily from 10:00 - 17:00.

There are two official Twitter accounts which are @ChelmsMuseum and @CityCentred, and more information about the exhibition can be found at the official City Centred webpage.

Lastly, if you get a chance, try to get along to Yvonne’s presentation on Tuesday 23rd September at 7.45pm. More details here.

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