A thriv­ing city and its stun­ning land­mark

Essex Life - - INSIDE -

Chelms­ford was awarded city sta­tus in 2012 when it was cho­sen from a short­list of po­ten­tial new cities (in­clud­ing St As­aph in Wales and Perth in Scot­land) drawn up in hon­our of the Queen’s Di­a­mond Jubilee. Since then the city has been grow­ing in strength, sta­tus and size – lit­er­ally.

Growth is cer­tainly a key word for the city with many new houses and de­vel­op­ments be­ing built, old build­ings be­ing con­verted into lux­ury dwellings and the cen­tre re­cently boast­ing the ad­di­tion of the Bond Street shop­ping de­vel­op­ment.

Busi­ness seems to be do­ing well too and, be­ing so close to Lon­don, many younger pro­fes­sion­als and fam­i­lies are opt­ing to move to Chelms­ford to take ad­van­tage of the hous­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, ex­cel­lent schools and the fab­u­lous coun­try­side that sur­rounds it.

But Chelms­ford’s suc­cess as a mod­ern thriv­ing city owes so much to its past. The Ro­mans set­tled there and called it Cae­saro­ma­gus, which trans­lates as Ceasar’s Mar­ket Place, but it was much later that the town truly pros­pered from its mar­ket. Bishop Wil­liam of Lon­don was re­spon­si­ble for grant­ing royal per­mis­sion for weekly mar­kets in 1199 and then in 1201 an an­nual fair was also given the King’s ap­proval. This brought in trades­men from not just the lo­cal area but fur­ther afield too – a sign of just how im­por­tant re­tail would be­come for the town, per­haps.


Hy­lands House is an im­pos­ing land­mark

At the turn of the 20th cen­tury, the town – along with the rest of the coun­try – would play its part in and bear the dam­age of two world wars.

The fac­tory of com­mu­ni­ca­tions pi­o­neer Guglielmo Mar­coni and the Hoff­mann en­gi­neer­ing works, which made ball and roller bear­ings, were tar­geted by the Luft­waffe dur­ing World War II, which also dam­aged houses close to the fac­to­ries.

An­other fa­mous build­ing, Hy­lands House, had a role to play in both wars, but its func­tion up un­til then had been one of fit­ting deca­dence for its wealthy and priv­i­leged own­ers.

Al­though much of the city’s his­tory and its cur­rent mod­ern ex­pan­sion is fo­cused on its cen­tre, Hy­lands Es­tate is si­t­u­ated on the out­skirts of the city, but has a rich and sig­nif­i­cant his­tory, play­ing an im­por­tant part in at­tract­ing thou­sands of vis­i­tors and tourists to Chelms­ford ev­ery year.

The house and grounds were built around 300 years ago for Es­sex lawyer Sir John Comyns and the ini­tial plan was for a red brick Queen Anne de­sign set in 400 acres.

Cor­nelius Kor­tright took own­er­ship in 1797 and swiftly be­gan to up­date the es­tate. In­flu­enced by the Ro­man­tic Move­ment of the time and with the help of revered land­scape ar­chi­tect Humphry Repton, sig­nif­i­cant changes were made to the park­land in­clud­ing a Ser­pen­tine Lake and its ex­ten­sion to meet the River Wid.

Pierre Labouchère (1814-1839) was a mer­chant banker by trade. He hired Dutch de­signer Fran­cis Nie­man to in­tro­duce fruit and veg­eta­bles that were con­sid­ered rather ex­otic for the English cli­mate. This he man­aged to do very suc­cess­fully, in part thanks to the con­struc­tion of a heated con­ser­va­tory or glasshouse al­most 280ft long. His forced grow­ing of apri­cots, melon and rasp­ber­ries earned him an award from the Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety of Lon­don in 1832. It was also Labouchère who was re­spon­si­ble for chang­ing the ex­te­rior of the build­ing to the way it looks to­day with its neo-clas­si­cal sym­met­ri­cal de­sign façade, as well as the for­mal Plea­sure Gar­dens and Geor­gian Sta­ble Block.

MP for Har­wich, John Attwood, pur­chased the es­tate on Labouchère’s death and ex­tended it to 4,300 acres while also build­ing high walls and cre­at­ing nat­u­ral screen­ing. At his re­quest, roads were di­verted or pri­va­tised and houses were de­mol­ished for him to en­joy

un­in­ter­rupted views across his land.

Arthur Pryor (1858-1904) seemed to have a more gen­er­ous and so­cia­ble spirit. Un­der his own­er­ship the house and grounds hosted fetes, con­certs and other so­cial events. He was an­other one keen on hor­ti­cul­ture and the gar­dens, tended by gar­den­ing staff, pro­duced dis­plays that reg­u­larly won awards at the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural Show. Sir Daniel and Lady Gooch took own­er­ship in 1905 and they also made the best of the gar­dens by grow­ing plenty of fruit and veg­eta­bles to feed the many guests who stayed in the house.

Dur­ing World War I, Hy­lands House was used as an emer­gency hospi­tal, but shortly af­ter that it would have its fi­nal pri­vate own­ers, Chris­tine Han­bury (1922-1962) and her hus­band John. Mrs Han­bury be­came a widow sud­denly in 1923 and then went on to lose her son dur­ing World War II. The es­tate was com­man­deered as a Ger­man pris­oner of war camp and then housed an SAS base. The griev­ing Mrs Han­bury made sev­eral changes to the gar­dens, in­clud­ing adding a lawn ten­nis court, mag­nif­i­cent rhodo­den­dron bor­ders and a pri­vate area within the gar­dens ded­i­cated to her late hus­band and son. Fol­low­ing her death in 1962, the house was left to her trus­tees and the house was put up for sale for the fi­nal time.

Chelms­ford Bor­ough Coun­cil ob­tained the house in 1966 at auc­tion and by then the house was in a se­ri­ous state of dis­re­pair. To­day it is fully re­stored with the Geor­gian en­trance hall, the grand stair­case, the Boudoir and the Blue Room all high­lights that re­veal the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the time and the var­i­ous pref­er­ences of the oc­cu­pants. All its fea­tures, at­ten­tion to de­tail and fin­ished el­e­gance make for a very de­sir­able venue for wed­dings, cel­e­bra­tions and im­por­tant cor­po­rate events.

The park­land and gar­dens have also been worked on ex­ten­sively and, in keep­ing with the plans of Humphry Repton, are a real treat for any­one in­ter­ested in green-fin­gered pur­suits or a sim­ple love of plants. Vis­i­tors can en­joy im­pres­sive plant­ing schemes, an­cient wood­lands, grass­lands and the new­lyre­stored Ser­pen­tine Lake. The Plea­sure Gar­dens, hid­den within the park, rep­re­sent a wide se­lec­tion of plant­ing themes past and present.

In 2007, the venue en­ter­tained Scouts from over 160 na­tions for the Scout­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion’s 21st world jam­boree, mark­ing its 100th an­niver­sary.

In hon­our of this, the One World Gar­den was con­structed within the Plea­sure Gar­dens. Beau­ti­fully planted and with a small stream which winds through­out, the space is de­signed for chil­dren who can en­joy their very own Cob Nut Walk.

Over­all, the park is a hive of ac­tiv­ity and is used daily by the pub­lic. It has five mapped walks laid out rang­ing from a short walk last­ing just 30 min­utes to a much longer four-mile route, and there is pro­vi­sion for cy­clists too.

The Sta­ble Block is now a vis­i­tor cen­tre and home to res­i­dent artists and crafts­men who prac­tise in a va­ri­ety of styles. The venue runs work­shops and demon­stra­tions, and is open to vis­i­tors dur­ing the week.

Hy­lands is also well known for host­ing the pop­u­lar V Fes­ti­val, which this year was re­placed by the RIZE fes­ti­val. The his­tory of the V Fes­ti­val goes back to 1996 and since then, an­nu­ally, thou­sands of mu­sic en­thu­si­asts have de­scend on the park for a week­end of live mu­sic.

With such an in­cred­i­ble his­tory of own­er­ship and changes both ar­chi­tec­tural and hor­ti­cul­tural, Hy­lands House and Es­tate has had quite a jour­ney, but it stands to­day as tes­ta­ment to Chelms­ford’s City Coun­cil and their ded­i­ca­tion to re­store it to its full glory and keep it open for all to en­joy in so many ways.N

‘Younger pro­fes­sion­als and fam­i­lies are opt­ing to move to Chelms­ford to take ad­van­tage of the hous­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, ex­cel­lent schools and the fab­u­lous coun­try­side that sur­rounds it’

BE­LOW:The Ban­quet­ing Room in­side Hy­lands House

Dressed for a cer­e­mony

Hy­lands House

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