Thirty miles east of London, Chelmsford has a quick half-hour commute to the City, good schools, a university, pretty surrounding villages in the surrounding countryside and remote and beautiful river estuaries. This Essex county town acquired longed-for city status last year and is about to experience a big boost in house building, plus exciting town centre developments including a new John Lewis store, the first in Essex, opening in 2014.
One of the city’s newest housing developments will be on the site of the former Marconi factory, a name of historic importance for Chelmsford. It was here in Hall Street that Guglielmo Marconi set up the first radio factory in 1899, and it was from a later factory in New Street that Britain’s first radio programmes were broadcast in 1920, two years before the formation of the British Broadcasting Company, which became the BBC in 1927.
Properties for sale in Chelmsford
Chelmsford has a mix of properties. In the centre of the city there are new waterside flats overlooking the River Can and the River Chelmer, and the Chelmer and Blackwater canal, with one-bedroom flats selling for around £150,000. There are also roads of Victorian two- and three-bedroom terraces which sell for between £180,000 and about £220,000.
Chelmsford has expanded in the past 40 years. Chelmer Village to the south-east grew up in the Seventies and Eighties, and four-bedroom detached houses here sell for between £350,000 and £450,000.
Chancellor Park to the east was developed in the Nineties; houses here are some £10,000 more expensive.
The most exclusive development is Beaulieu Park to the north-east where work started after 2000. Here four-bedroom detached houses sell for between £500,000 and £800,000.
The area attracts: Scott Cracknell from the Chelmsford branch of Abbotts says the city is a favourite destination for east Londoners looking for affordable homes within easy commuting distance of London.
Staying power: once families make the move from London they tend to stay in Chelmsford because there is plenty of scope for moving up and down the property ladder.
Renting: Nick Miller, the rental manager at Abbotts, says there is a strong rental demand, both from commuters and people working in Chelmsford. “We are also finding that the lack of mortgage finance means a lot of families with young children are now renting rather than buying.”
Best roads: the most expensive homes currently for sale in Chelmsford itself are a six-bedroom modern house in Shardelow Avenue, Beaulieu Park, on the market for £950,000, and a six-bedroom Victorian house in Mildmay Road, Old Moulsham, south of the town centre, which is on the market for £900,000.
The villages around Chelmsford are also sought after. According to Joan Oddey of John D Wood, Danbury has a popular primary school and Felsted has a private day and boarding school bearing the name of the village.
Writtle, with its duck pond, and Little Waltham, Boreham and Broomfield also have their advocates. In the villages, four-bedroom detached houses with good-size gardens can sell for between £600,000 and £1 million.
What’s new: there is full planning or outline planning permission for about 5,500 new homes. The largest development is the proposed expansion of Beaulieu Park — a joint venture between developer Countryside and housing association London & Quadrant, with plans for 3,600 new homes, a business park, schools, a hotel, open space and eventually a new station on the direct line to Liverpool Street.
New homes available now include Clarion Gate, a mix of flats and houses in Great Baddow from Crest Nicholson (0870 757 8184). In Chelmsford itself, Taylor Wimpey’s Indigo Wharf (0845 072 6520) has one- and two-bedroom flats in Navigation Road, while Swan New Homes’s Dimensions (Abbotts 01245 898490) also has one-and two-bedroom flats in Parkway.
Up and coming: Scott Cracknell of Abbotts suggests that the Primrose Hill area, where there are two- and three-bedroom Victorian cottages close to the station, is well worth a closer look.
Chelmsford has two excellent grammar schools. Both King Edward VI Grammar School, known as KEGS — a boys’ school which takes girls in the sixth form — and Chelmsford County High School for Girls are highly selective, with only one in 10 of Chelmsford’s children getting through the tough entrance exams. Both are among the top-performing state schools in the country and many parents send their children to private prep schools to get them ready for the entrance exams.
There are five private prep schools: St Anne’s (co-ed ages three to 11) in London Road; St Cedd’s (co-ed ages four to 11) in New London Road; Widford Lodge in Widford Road (co-ed ages two to 11); Elm Green (ages five to 11) in Little Baddow, and Heathcote (co-ed ages three to 11) in Danbury.
Chelmsford’s state primary schools are mostly judged “good” by the Government’s education watchdog Ofsted, and the following are judged to be “outstanding”: Moulsham Infants in Princes Road (the junior school is judged “good”); The Tyrrells in Tavistock Road; Perryfield Juniors in Lawn Road (the infants school is judged “good”); Barnes Farm Infants and Juniors in Henniker Gate; Newlands Spring in Dickens Place; Galleywood Infants in Barnard Road (St Michael’s CofE, the junior school, is judged “good”), and in the surrounding villages there are Boreham and Danbury Park in Danbury.
Most of Chelmsford’s comprehensive schools are judged “good”, while Chelmer Valley, (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Court Road, is judged “outstanding”.
New Hall School (co-ed ages three to 18) is a private Catholic day and boarding school in Boreham, housed in a beautiful Tudor building once owned by Henry VIII.
Shops and restaurants
Chelmsford has two shopping centres, the High Chelmer and the Meadows, and a high street with a Debenhams, with a branch of John Lewis coming next year. Locals escape the “clone town” feel with a walk down Moulsham Street, which has many fine old buildings and independent shops. The indoor market has a mix of shops and stalls including a butcher and a cheese shop, and lots of second-hand and vintage stalls.
Chelmsford has a good choice of chain restaurants such as Café Rouge, Pizza Express and Giraffe. Olio is a popular Italian restaurant and the Alma is a top pub restaurant.
There are two top restaurants in the village of Writtle — Grahams on the Green, where the Beckhams have dined, and The Blue Bridge.
Popular country pub restaurants are The Green Man in Edney Common and The Cuckoo in Radley Green. Danbury has not one but two gastropubs, The Griffin and The Anchor.
Open space: Central Park in the town centre has pleasant riverside walks and good cycle lanes. Hylands Park is where the V Festival is held every year in the middle weekend of August.
Leisure and the arts: the Riverside Ice and Leisure Centre is the local council-owned leisure facility, with three swimming pools and an ice rink. There are three civic theatres which put on plays, comedy, music and films. The Channels and the Little Channels golf clubs are north of the town centre, and Chelmsford Golf Club is in Widford.
Travel: train services to Liverpool Street take about 24 minutes; an annual season ticket costs £3,540.
Council: Chelmsford city council (Conservative-controlled). Band D council tax for the 2012/2013 year is £1,472.22.
Buying in Chelmsford
One-bedroom flat: £130,989
Two-bedroom flat: £173,114
Two-bedroom house: £223,656
Three-bedroom house: £302,141
Four-bedroom house: £461,158
Renting in Chelmsford
One-bedroom flat: £500 to £850 a month
Two-bedroom house: £600 to £1,300 a month
Two-bedroom house: £750 to £1,095 a month
Three-bedroom house: £750 to £1,300 a month
Four-bedroom house: £950 to £2,500 a month
Five-bedroom house: £1,300 to £3,000 a month
Source: Abotts Countrywide
Fun facts for Chelmsford: highest value streets
Photographs by Graham Hussey