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The History of Chelmsford

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The early history of Chelmsford can be traced back to the original Roman settlement of Caesaromagus (Caesar's market place). The Romans built a fort at the location of modern Chelmsford in 60 AD. The setting proved a convenient halfway point on the road between Londinium ( London ) and Camulodunum ( Colchester ) and market town developed there. By the end of the 2nd century AD, Caesaromagus had been fortified and was at its peak. The Romans presence in Britain then declined, especially during the 4th century. After they left in 407 AD, Ceasaromagus disappeared.

The modern town of Chelmsford did not emerge for almost 800 years after the Romans left Britain. In the early part of the 12th century, Bishop Maurice of London ordered the building of a bridge over the River Can. Later that century, in 1199, Bishop William obtained a royal charter to hold a market near the bridge. This led to merchants settling nearby and this prompted the birth of the modern town. Prior to this there was a town in the area, recorded as Celmeresfort in the 1086 Domesday Book , and by 1189 the name had already changed to Chelmsford. Nevertheless the origin of the modern town of Chelmsford is still attributed to the granting of the charter in 1199. Within a few years of this the town had grown to a respectable size, with several hundred inhabitants; barely a village by modern standards, but a fair sized town in the early Middle Ages. The town prospered due to its ideal location, the busy road brought plenty of business to its market. The leather and wool industries also thrived in the town in the early part of the Middle Ages.

During the early part of the Middle Ages, Chelmsford was beset by the same challenges as other English towns of the time. Towns then had few proper answers to the problems of providing sanitation, narrow streets, animals such as pigs allowed to roam freely in the streets and the disposal of human waste prior to the installation of drainage systems in towns led to regular outbreaks of disease. The Black Death struck Chelmsford, as it did most English towns. The town seems to have been hit particularly hard, however, with some accounts suggesting that of half the population of the town may have been wiped out by the Black Death.

In the 13th century a friary was begun at Chelmsford. The friars were similar to monks but, instead of withdrawing into their monastery to escape the world, they chose to take their message out to the local community. The dominican friars of Chelmsford wore black habits, and became known as black friars. The friary was finally closed by Henry VIII in 1538. The church of St. Mary the Virgin, built at the beginning of the 13th century when the modern town began, underwent significant rebuilds in both the 15th and 16th centuries. It was not to become a cathedral until the 20th century, but has some important historical links. Thomas Hooker , known to many as 'the Father of American Democracy', had strong links with the church during his time as Town Lecturer for Chelmsford (1626-1629). Thomas was forced to leave for America due to his Puritan beliefs. On his arrival in the new world, he founded the town of Hartford, Connecticut.

Chelmsford continued to grow throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, with a great many improvements made to the town in the 18th century. The town had a new Shire Hall built, a new jail, the streets were paved and oil lamps installed. At the end of the 18th century, the building of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Canal improved links with the rest of the country.

During the 19th century, improvements to the town continued. Some of these were necessary to cope with additional problems being caused by the continued growth of the town. The population quadrupled during the 19th century in Chelmsford and the town suffered from outbreaks of cholera due to the lack of sanitation. Sewers were installed in the middle part of the century, which greatly improved the situation.

The growth of Chelmsford continued rapidly during the 20 th century. The town was an important light engineering centre during World War II , which made it the target of some severe bombing. In the worst night for the town, 39 people were killed and well over 100 injured. Towards the end of the century the engineering industries went into decline, but it has not stopped the growth of the town. In 1971 the population of the town reached 58,000, it is currently over 120,000. In 2007, Chelmsford was voted as the 8th most desirable place to live in the United Kingdom on the Channel 4 television show 'Location, Location, Location'

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