This item from Veteran and MOG (Marconi Old Geezer) Don Halstead appeared in a posting in a July MOGS digest. If you’re a MOG you may have already read this, but please forgive us because the sentiments will chime with many other non-MOG veterans familiar with ‘old Chelmsford’.
It kicked off a number of memories from other MOGs about long-gone drinking haunts and other after-work entertainment venues of the far-off 1960s Chelmsford. Thanks Don for allowing us to reproduce it here. We must also acknowledge Hilda Grieve’s history of Chelmsford ‘The Sleepers and the Shadows’ from which he quotes.
He saw a piece seen on the front cover of last July’s Moulsham Times which carried an invitation to a ‘Grand 60s Reunion at O'Connors Irish Pub’ on Hall Street on 23rd July. The invitation asked "Did you frequent the Corn Exchange, Orpheus Coffee Bar, The R&B (?) or Ecstasy Records?”
He says “I remember the Orpheus in a basement on New London Road, in the early 60s, jammed full late into the night after the pubs, the Regent, the Odeon had emptied. How long could one make half an inch of coffee and two inches of froth last? Notes on the web suggest that it became very popular in later years with the younger generation - especially those with Vespa scooters! I gather that today the basement provides storage for a barber's shop.
Other recollections from that era and area include Wainwright's Milk Bar, on the corner of Tindal Street, with the White Hart coaching inn and all the old buildings swept away by redevelopment. Mike Plant refers to 'perhaps nine pubs somewhere around Tindal Street'.
So I have referred to Hilda Grieve’s monumental history of Chelmsford, 'The Sleepers and the Shadows' to see what she tells. There is so much material there that it would take me weeks to look through all of it, even with the voluminous indices. There are copies available to borrow in a number of Essex libraries.
From early ages Chelmsford had a goodly collection of breweries, alehouses, inns and bawdy houses; perhaps 20-40. I believe there were no less than 4 breweries on the Guy Harlings estate on New Street. Two ale-tasters were appointed annually for quality control purposes. I don't think they were required to wear leather britches to check that the beer could stick them to the seat, but who knows. Certainly an awful lot of folk incurred financial penalties for not sending for the ale taster.
Tindal Street itself dates back a long way and has had many names: Back Lane/Street, Conduit Street, Tindal Street. 'Conduit' refers to the open water conduit, piped from Burgess Well, which ran from what we now know as Tindal Square down the High Street to Springfield Road and then into a stream, the Gullet. The water was quite fresh at the start, very tainted further down. The block of buildings now occupied by HSBC down to Lloyds Bank was a relatively late development; the successors of many smaller units built on either side of the conduit as years passed. Viewed from above the course of the conduit is still defined by tiny open yards left within the (relatively) modern buildings.
'The Sleepers and the Shadows' includes a street directory circa 1590.
The Back Lane (Street) West side (i.e. the side demolished 1969-71) from North to South. (Modern numbering).
No.27 White Hart inn, first recorded as an inn in 1570; site documented from 1385.
No.25-6 The Heath, a capital messuage or 'Place' with barns, stables and malthouse. By the 1620s this had become the Angel inn; site documented from 1380s.
No.24 By 1601 it became the Talbot inn, later known as the Dog or Spotted Dog.
No. 21-3 Formerly Shawes or the Bull, but by 1591 the Brewhouse.
No.18-20 The Bear
No.15-17 Sharparrows or the Three Arrows. An alehouse(?)
No.14 Dolphin inn
No.12-13 & 1 New London Road Rose inn. Belonged to Rob. of Writtle in 1383; called Paryshoppe in 1421.
Mayes, New London Road gap. By 1603 the Unicorn Inn.
By 1909 approx. there were just three inns left; White Hart, Spotted Dog, Dolphin.
In the early 1960s my first car (Austin A40) was serviced by Jack Petchey at the White Hart garage in what were probably the stables at the far end of the White Hart covered passage way.
In 1590 the East side of Back Street was undeveloped open space, where stood Stocks, Pillory and New Cage. And of course the conduit.
Hilda lists a multitude of inns on the High Street and elsewhere; perhaps food for another essay sometime. Notable among them is the Saracen's Head in various guises; The Angel at Broomfield is another medieval establishment which must have been familiar to Radar's staff at one time. John Brown might comment?
As I understand it, weak ale was a much safer drink than untreated water in those days. There were endless civic feuds about Chelmsford's water supplies, and it was the 1850s before adequate sewerage was attempted. My maternal grandmother (no connection with Chelmsford), was born c1882 in a canal-side cottage in Nottinghamshire. Every drop of water for the family (7+ parents) was drawn from the canal, to be boiled as required. But even in Chelmsford c1850 'acquifer water' was in demand at six pails a penny.
And I can't resist including one more fact: Waterloo Lane was originally known as Shytburye Lane, the road down which 'night soil' was conveyed to be tipped into the river - another reason not to use its water!
'The Sleepers and the Shadows' (a quote from Walt Whitman's ‘Passage to India’) is a remarkable read. Pretty certainly the two volumes are no longer in print, but well worth studying if copies are to hand.* I only hope I haven't garbled too much of the content.”
*Copies are available to borrow in a number of Essex libraries.
If you’d like to read the reminiscences that Don’s piece triggered seek out MOGS July 2022 messages at