Awarded city status and with its lovely parish church, St Mary the Virgin, now a cathedral, the Essex town of Chelmsford’s recognition in 2012 as a major employment and commuter destination appears to have put a lasting spring in its step.
John Lewis is set to open in 2016, in a new city centre shopping area that will include a public square overlooking the River Can, while 3,600 new homes are planned around Beaulieu Park on the north-eastern edge of town, where there will also be a new train station.
There are new city centre flats around the existing Chelmsford station, along the river and at the Essex County Cricket Club ground, while opposite the station the redevelopment of the former Anglia Ruskin University campus is opening new walkways to the High Street.
Chelmsford sits north-east of London close to the A12, the old Roman road from London to Colchester, and is roughly halfway — 35 miles — between the two.
Property for sale in Chelmsford
The city centre has mainly Victorian and Edwardian homes of varying sizes. A detached Victorian or Edwardian house in the best areas now easily tops £1 million, while a semi-detached house will cost between £650,000 and £750,000. In the popular Moulsham area of the city centre, smaller Victorian terrace houses go for £300,000-£400,000.
Chelmsford has been expanding since the Seventies, with new settlements on the periphery such as Chelmer Village, Chancellor Park and Beaulieu Park. Houses in Beaulieu Park, the most popular of these three areas, can command £1 million.
There are period houses to be had in Chelmsford’s surrounding villages of Writtle, Danbury, Little Baddow and Galleywood.
Property to rent in Chelmsford
One-bedroom flats near the station are popular with London commuters. This one-bedroom flat in Marconi Plaza next to the station is available to rent for £775 a month. Out in the surrounding countryside there are period homes to rent; this six-bedroom barn conversion in Great Waltham is available to rent for £3,700 a month.“Buy-to-let” investors prefer city centre flats where the yield is over five per cent.
Best roads: New London Road, Springfield Road and Bromfield Road.
Postcodes: CM1 covers Chelmsford and Writtle; CM2 the rest of Chelmsford; CM3 is a large postcode covering an area east of the town centre including Boreham.
Travel: Chelmsford sits close to the A12 between Colchester and London with access to the M25. Trains into Liverpool Street take 32-40 minutes and an annual season ticket is £3,640.
The area attracts: the two grammar schools are a big draw — families are increasingly looking for city centre houses within walking distance of the schools, the high street and the station. House prices in the centre of Chelmsford are only slightly above the autumn 2007 peak, so families moving in from Hackney, for example, are getting a lot more for their money in Chelmsford.
Up and coming: the planned new railway station at Boreham will increase the attractiveness of Beaulieu Park and the north-eastern corner of Chelmsford. Nearby Shenfield is also going to benefit from the arrival of Crossrail, which from 2019 will give commuters easy access to the West End with a 45-minute journey to Tottenham Court Road.
Staying power: some families make one last move to the Suffolk or Norfolk countryside once their children have left for university.
Council: Chelmsford district council is Tory controlled. Band D council tax in the city is £1,488.06.
Pictures by Graham Hussey
Shops and restaurants
Busy Chelmsford High Street has a Debenhams and The Meadows and High Chelmer shopping centres. There is a Friday and Saturday outdoor market along the High Street and a covered market with more than 80 stalls. Lower and mid-market brands predominate with branches of Primark, New Look, River Island and Topshop. The planned £7 million upgrade of the shopping street is much needed. It is looking tired, and there has been little improvement since it was pedestrianised in 1991.
The Co-operative retail movement is still strong here, and Chelmsford Star Co-op owns the Quadrant department store. There are independent shops off the main street, in Baddow Road where the Zagger boutiques cater for the label-conscious, and in Moulsham Street, with its concentration of pubs and The Farmshop and the Essex Cider Shop catering for local foodies. New London Road has Just Imagine, a children’s bookshop and specialist literacy resource and training centre, plus a café, and a store for interior accessories and jewellery.
In the High Street, a sign says Jamie Oliver is coming home to Essex. The celebrity chef is set to open a branch of his Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain in the autumn, near what will become the new retail quarter between Bond Street and the river, with the new John Lewis in 2016.
The city centre restaurant scene is dominated by chains such as Café Rouge, Prezzo and Giraffe but interesting gastropubs and restaurants in local villages include the Lion Inn at Boreham, the Blue Strawberry Bistrot at Hatfield Peverel and Grahams on the Green in Writtle. There is much excitement about the imminent arrival of an Albert Roux restaurant in nearby Brentwood.
There are lovely walks to be had along the Rivers Can and Chelmer, and the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. The interconnected Central Park, Bell Meadow and Blue Pasture are popular town centre riverside parks. The park at Hylands House, a poplar wedding venue, was designed by Humphry Repton and has an adventure castle playground and pleasure garden, with a café, gift shop and artists’ studios at the Stables Visitor Centre.
Leisure and the arts
The Chelmsford City Theatres in Fairfield Road has a theatre offering drama, comedy and music, plus a cinema. There is an Odeon multiplex in The Meadows shopping centre. The Victorian mansion and modern extension in Oaklands Park houses the Chelmsford Museum and Essex Regiment Museum. Chelmsford Golf Club is in Widford Road, and council-owned Riverside Ice & Leisure Centre in Victoria Road has three swimming pools and an ice rink.
Test your knowledge: three things about Chelmsford...
What links a remarkable Chelmsford campaigner with a village in Jamaica?
Anne Knight (1786 to 1862), the daughter of a Chelmsford grocer, was an anti-slavery campaigner and active proponent of women’s suffrage. Knightsville in Jamaica is named after her or her sister Maria. Various buildings in Chelmsford are named after her including a fine former Quaker chapel, opposite the railway station, that has been recently restored by housing association Genesis Homes as part of its City Park West development.
What has Chelmsford got in common with Perth in Scotland and St Asaph in Wales?
These three towns were all awarded city status in March 2012.
Which Italian sparked a communications revolution in Chelmsford?
Guglielmo Marconi (1874 - 1937) set up the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company in 1897. The following year he opened the first wireless factory in Chelmsford. He is credited with transmitting the first international wireless message across the Channel. Marconi’s defence business merged with British Aerospace to form BAE systems in 1999. The rump of the company got into financial problems during the dot.com boom and in 2006 most of its assets were bought by Ericsson. The factory in New Street closed in 2008; it is now the site of a housing development.
Private prep and grammar schools
Chelmsford is where parents send their children to private prep schools in order to coach them for the entrance exams to the two grammar schools – King Edward Vi (boys, ages 11 to 18) – known locally as KEGS - and Chelmsford County High (girls, ages 11 to 18) – both in Broomfield Road and both rated “outstanding” by the government’s education watchdog Ofsted. The private prep schools are: St Cedd’s in New London Road (co-ed, ages three to 11); St Anne’s (co-ed, ages three to 11) also in New London Road; and Widford Lodge (co-ed, ages two to 11) in Widford Road.
With a handful of exceptions Chelmsford’s primary schools are judged to be “good” or better; those that get an “outstanding” rating are: Oaklands Infants (ages five to seven) in Vicarage Road; The Tyrrells School in Tavistock Road; Perryfields Juniors (ages seven to 11) in Lawn Road; Barnes Farm Juniors (ages seven to 11) in Henniker Gate; Newlands Spring in Dickens Place and Galleywood Infants (ages five to seven) in Barnard Road.
Comprehensive schools and further education
There are seven comprehensive schools and a further education college: Moulsham High (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Brian Close; The Boswells School (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Barnard Road; St John Payne RC (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Patching Hall Lane; Hylands School (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Chelmsford Road; Sandon School (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Molrams Lane); Great Baddow High (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Duffield Road; and Chelmer Valley (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Court Road.
All are judged to be “good” but it is the first three Moulsham High, The Boswells and St John Payne RC that get the best results at GCSE. Chelmsford College (co-ed, ages 16 plus) in Moulsham Street is only judged to be “satisfactory”. New Hall School (co-ed, ages, three to 18) in the Avenue is an all-through private Catholic day and boarding school.