Chelmsford is the principal settlement of the City of Chelmsford and the county town of Essex, in the East of England. It is located in the London commuter belt, approximately northeast of Charing Cross, London, and approximately the same distance from the once provincial Roman capital at Colchester. The urban area of the city currently has a population of approximately 110,000, whilst the district has a population of 168,310, however this is thought to be rapidly increasing on a year-by-year basis with many people from Essex and the London borders re-locating to the city.
The main conurbation incorporates all or part of the former parishes of Broomfield, Great Baddow, Galleywood, Writtle, Moulsham, Widford and Springfield, including Springfield Barnes, now known as Chelmer Village.
Chelmsford's population consists of a large number of City and Docklands commuters, attracted by the 30–35 minute journey from Central London via the Great Eastern Main Line. The same journey takes approximately 60 minutes by road via the A12.
On 14 March 2012, chairman of the Privy Council and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that Chelmsford, along with Perth, Scotland and St Asaph, Wales, was to be granted city status. The Letters Patent officially granting city status to Chelmsford from The Queen was received on 6 June 2012.
The demonym for a Chelmsford resident is "Chelmsfordian".
In 1199, following the commissioning of a bridge over the River Can by Maurice, Bishop of London, William of Sainte-Mère-Eglise was granted a Royal Charter for Chelmsford to hold a market, marking the origin of the modern town. An under-cover market, operating Tuesday to Saturday, is still an important part of the city centre over 800 years later. The city's name is derived from Ceolmaer's ford which was close to the site of the present High Street stone bridge. In the Domesday Book of 1086 the town was called Celmeresfort and by 1189 it had changed to Chelmsford. Its position on the Londinium – Camulodonum Roman road (the modern A12) ensured the early prosperity of Chelmsford; in the first decade of the 12th century its population had grown to several hundred, which was large for its time.
Before 1199, there were settlements nearby from ancient times. A Neolithic and a late Bronze Age settlement have been found in the Springfield suburb, and the town was occupied by the Romans. A Roman fort was built in AD 60, and a civilian town grew up around it. The town was given the name of Caesaromagus' (the market place of Caesar), although the reason for it being given the great honour of bearing the Imperial prefix is now unclear – possibly as a failed 'planned town' provincial capital to replace Londinium or Camulodunum. The remains of a mansio, a combination post office, civic centre and hotel, lie beneath the streets of modern Moulsham, and the ruins of an octagonal temple are located beneath the Odeon roundabout. The town disappeared for a while after the Romans left Britain.
The town became the seat of the local assize during the early 13th century (though assizes were also held at Brentwood) and by 1218 was recognised as the county town of Essex, a position it has retained to the present day. Chelmsford was significantly involved in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and Richard II moved on to the town after quelling the rebellion in London. 'The Sleepers and The Shadows', written by Hilda Grieve in 1988 using original sources, states: "For nearly a week, from Monday 1st July to Saturday 6th July , Chelmsford became the seat of government ... The king probably lodged at his nearby manor house at Writtle. He was attended by his council, headed by the temporary Chancellor ... the new chief justice ... the royal chancery ... Their formidable task in Chelmsford was to draft, engross, date, seal and despatch by messengers riding to the farthest corners of the realm, the daily batches of commissions, mandates, letters, orders and proclamations issued by the government not only to speed the process of pacification of the kingdom, but to conduct much ordinary day to day business of the Crown and Government." Richard II famously revoked the charters which he had made in concession to the peasants on 2 July 1381, while in Chelmsford. It could be said that given this movement of government power, Chelmsford for a few days at least became the capital of England. Many of the ringleaders of the revolt were executed on the gallows at what is now Primrose Hill.
An important Anglo-Saxon burial was discovered at Broomfield to the north of Chelmsford in the late 19th century and the finds are now in the British Museum. The road 'Saxon Way' now marks the site. In the 17th century many of the victims of Matthew Hopkins (the self-styled "Witchfinder General") spent their last days imprisoned in Chelmsford, before being tried at the Assizes and hanged for witchcraft.
Henry VIII purchased the Boleyn estate in 1516, and built Beaulieu Palace on the current site of New Hall School. This later became the residence of his then mistress, and later wife Ann. Soon after it became the residence of Henry's daughter, by his first marriage, Mary I.
King Robert I of Scotland, better known as Robert the Bruce, had close ties with the nearby village of Writtle and there is some evidence to suggest he was born at Montpeliers Farm in the village, but the story is disputed and possibly conflated with his father, Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale.
World War II
During World War II Chelmsford, an important centre of light engineering war production, was attacked from the air on several occasions, both by aircraft of the Luftwaffe and by missile. The worst single loss of life took place on Tuesday 19 December 1944, when the 367th Vergeltungswaffe 2 or V2 rocket to hit England fell on a residential street (Henry Road) near the Hoffmans ball bearing factory and not far from the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company factory in New Street which may also have been the target. (Hoffmans ball bearing factory was key to the war effort, supplying bearings for countless applications. This obviously made it a key target) Thirty-nine people were killed and 138 injured, 47 seriously. Several dwellings in Henry Road were completely destroyed, and many in nearby streets were badly damaged. A recently restored monument to the dead is in the city cemetery in Writtle Road.
On 13 May 1943 Luftwaffe bombing raids hit Chelmsford leaving more than 50 people dead and making nearly 1,000 residents homeless. The bombs on this night were dropped mainly in the town centre, Springfield and Moulsham.
Since the 1980s Chelmsford has suffered from a decline in its defence-related industries, most notably The Marconi Company with all of its factories either being closed or sold. The site on West Hanningfield Road was sold to BAE; the Waterhouse Lane site sold to E2V and the New Street site remains empty.
However, the city's location close to London and at the centre of Essex has helped it grow in importance as an administrative and distribution centre. The one-time largest employer in Chelmsford, RHP, the former Hoffman ball bearing manufacturing company, closed its New Street/Rectory Lane site in 1989. Some of the factory remains and have been converted into luxury apartments and a health club although most of the site was demolished to make way for the Rivermead Campus of the Anglia Ruskin University.
Beaulieu Park, The Village and Chancellor Park are some of the most recent large-scale housing developments built in the city to complement earlier developments such as Chelmer Village which was built throughout the 1980s.