World Famous for being the birthplace of radio, Chelmsford is county town and recently became the first city in Essex, England. It lies 30 miles (48.5 km) northeast of Liverpool Street London, approximately halfway between there and Colchester. It is almost exactly in the centre of the county and it has been the county town of Essex since 1215. It is also the seat of the Borough of Chelmsford, which covers a wider area than the city, including the new (ca. 1970s) settlement of South Woodham Ferrers on the banks of the River Crouch. The Borough Council celebrated its centenary in 1988 (it had been incorporated as a municipal borough in 1888 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1882), and the city its 800th anniversary in 1999. Chelmsford was officially made a city on the Queen's diamond jubilee in March 2012.
Being in the south east of England, the city enjoys a warmer climate than most of the United Kingdom and has some of the hottest summers in Britain; it is also one of the driest places in the country. Temperatures often reach 30°C in the summer. The hottest day on record in the city was on the U.K. wide temperature record breaking day of Sunday August 10 2003 when 35.2°C or 95.4°F was recorded. Thunderstorms mostly occur during July/August however they can occur anytime of the year.
During the winter the temperature rarely stays below 0°C during the day and even with night-time winter temperatures, it's extremely rare to fall below -5°C. Air and ground frost is very common from November through to March.
Snow is sometimes seen in the winter months because the town is near to the east coast where cold, moist air is brought in from the North Sea. In recent years there has been up to three inches of snow on days in January and February which has resulted in minor disruption to transport and caused some schools to close. However, the snow tends not to persist for a significant length of time in any noticeable quantity.
Chelmsford Station is a fairly busy train station for through passengers; so the service and regularity is very good. London's Liverpool Street is 35 minutes away, where the line terminates. Trains to London run every 10 minutes, while northbound services run to Braintree, Colchester, Ipswich and beyond. There's an hourly intercity service to Norwich (90 minutes). Like many major stations near London, you need a ticket to enter/exit the platforms as there are automatic barriers by the platform entrance. As the station is elevated there's only 2 platforms - all southbound services go to London but if heading north several trains going to different destinations will arrive within minutes of each other so keep an eye on the information screens and PA announcements to make sure you don't board the wrong train. This situation becomes worse if there's delays as there is only 2 tracks through the station and trains will easily become backlogged. The station had a WHSmith newsagents and an independent convenience store on the lower level until recently (as of August 2014), but the whole place is being expanded and refurbished and there are no retail opportunities outside the ticketed area at present. There are still a couple of cafes on the upper (platform) level, although beware standard UK railway pricing. Better to go to the co-op a hundred yards up the road and buy snacks for your journey.
Chelmsford's new bus station is located on Duke Street adjacent to the rail station and is a hub for both urban and interurban bus services which connect to most towns within Essex as well as a frequent shuttle service to Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock, and non-stop coach services to Stansted Airport. The station has real-time departure information screens so finding your bus is relatively easy. Facilities include toilets, ATMs, a pharmacy, a Subway sandwich shop and a Tesco Express convenience store. There's currently 2 Park&Ride services, one serving a car park in Sandon, just off the A12 south of Chelmsford, and the other, called Chelmer Valley which opened in April. This is situated to the north of the town on the A130. This service is especially convenient for those going to Anglia Ruskin university as the bus passes right through the campus.
The town centre is easily navigated on foot. The highstreet is fully pedestrianised and the two largest shopping malls have no vehicle access. Chelmsford benefits from being fairly flat and there are also good provisions for the disabled.
Access into Chelmsford is very good although be prepared to wait in queues in the centre of town, particularly along Victoria Road and Parkway. Rush Hour is between 7-10AM and again from 4.30 - 7PM. The Park and Ride service has helped things, although on occasion it can take a while, especially in the late afternoon, to leave the town. There are plenty of car parks, costing between £2 and £8 for a day, however be careful about parking in some areas as traffic wardens are notorious in the town. If in doubt ask a local the best areas to get free parking.
The internal Bus service is very good although schedules are rarely stuck too. Most of the stops have electronic displays to show when the next bus is due so it is best to just turn up and see how long the wait is. Bear in mind that inside the Town limits most locations can be walked to inside an hour, however most shelters are pleasant enough and nearly all have seats. Average bus prices are between £1 and £3 for a return inside of the town. Almost all local services use small midi-buses which can only seat around 25 passengers so they can become crowded. If heading for a destination along one of the main arterial roads it's usually more comfortable (and sometimes cheaper) to take an interurban bus as they'll follow a more direct route, have larger (often double-deck) buses and charge lower fares; although they're less frequent. Fares are charged by distance and the driver usually can provide change for smaller bills. Return fares are generally better value than single fares, but are not transferable between operators e.g. a return ticket on a First service cannot be used on a Regal Busways service. Bus services can also take travellers as far as Stansted Airport and Colchester, although services are very slow and infrequent. There is even a direct service to Lakeside Shopping Centre called service 100 which calls via Billericay, Basildon, Stanford-Le-Hope and Grays. Service 100 buses come every 15 minutes on Monday to Saturday (No Sunday service), but the journey between Chelmsford and Lakeside does take around 2 hours.
There are many taxi firms available in the town and all are clearly marked, so never accept a ride from one that isn't. Nearly all are saloon cars although there are an increasing amount of black cabs available. Cars can be pre-booked or found at locations or 'ranks'. These are located at the station and along Market Road. In the evenings more surface, the most easily located being the Baddow Road rank, located outside Pizza Express at the bottom of the High Street. Cabs are rarely hailed from the street, as you are never too far from a rank and cars will generally be full if seen on the roads.
The Town Centre is not particularly bike-friendly and you will often be told of this by a local if you try and weave in and out of pedestrians! Cycling is prohibited in the high street itself and will result in a fine if you are over the age of 16, however there are many cycle routes too and from the town. Council initiatives have lead to more and more cycle racks installed in the town.
The V Festival is an annual music festival, the first to be held simultaneously at two sites - currently Hylands Park in Chelmsford, Essex and Weston Park in Staffordshire. Originally, the festival took the name of the current year, with the first festival "V96" including a Warrington leg. It discarded its year specific name in 2003 since it has been known as simply the V Festival.
The "V" represents the Virgin Group, and began as another means of promoting Richard Branson's companies. The event is sponsored by Virgin Mobile, with Virgin Radio the official radio station.
The festival generally takes place during the penultimate weekend of August. Its critics dislike its corporate sponsorship and reputation for being the most "posh" of the major British music festivals. However its weekend format, low queuing times and professional organisation have given it a loyal audience. The festival sold out in record time in 2006.
Each year offers different genres however, they do tend to follow a trend each year, for exmaple, in 2011, the majority of acts were from the rap/hip hop bacjground, but of course other forms of music are on offer. The festival books a wide range of music and is probably the most likely amongst UK festivals to book some pop acts each year. Mel C, Dido, and N.E.R.D. have all performed at the festival, and both Razorlight and Faithless performed in 2006. V showcases a mix of British and international musicians, from up-and-coming bands such as Coldplay in 2000 and the Kaiser Chiefs in 2003, and glam rockers El Presidente in 2005, to veteran crooner Tony Christie. Girls Aloud also performed at the 2006 show, and received rave reviews for their performance. Pop artist Sophie Ellis-Bextor performed at the 2007 show. Notably, in 2011, Eminem and Rihanna headlined the festival.
Located directly behind The Shire Hall. The church of St Mary the Virgin in Chelmsford was probably first built along with the town 800 years ago. It was rebuilt in the 15th and early 16th centuries, with walls of flint rubble, stone and brick. There is also a tower and spire with a ring of thirteen bells. The nave was again rebuilt in the early 19th century, after it had partially collapsed.
Enclosed in beautiful gardens which offer a haven for the local populace, especially summer lunchtimes, the Cathedral is open year-round and entry is free.
Hylands House and Park
Hylands House and Park just to the west of the town is a country house and parkland, saved from dereliction and purchased by the local council in 1966 after the death of the last private owner. Much damaged by fire and vandalism by the time of the sale, the house has now been completely restored by Chelmsford Borough Council. The house dates originally from 1730, and the park (currently 574 acres or 232 ha) was landscaped by Humphry Repton. Open to the public and used for a wide range of community events, it is also available for weddings and other private hires including conferences etc. The park has in recent years been the site of annual music festivals, such as the V Festival and the ill-fated Council-run Chelmsford Spectacular. It was the site for the 21st World Scout Jamboree in 2007 and hosted Eurojam two years before in the summer of 2005.
The Shire Hall
The Shire Hall Chelmsford.The Shire Hall is situated at the top of the High Street. Opened in July 1791 and built by local Architect and County Surveyor John Johnson which features a Portland Stone façade. One of the oldest and most prominent buildings in Chelmsford, it was built as a Court house, which it has remained to this day.
Chelmsford does not offer the traveller much in the way of unique gifts or products, but the town does feature enough for the passer through to stock up on essentials.
The high street is dominated by the Debenhams department store, which offers the latest fashion, fragrance and electronics. Opposite this is the Marks and Spencer store, offering food and fashion for the older generation. There are numerous other shops, most notably Waterstones Books, Jessop cameras, Currys Digital, Next and GAP. The 'quadrant' located just over the stone bridge, is Chelmsfords only independent department store. It has three floors and sells fashions for the 30+ customer including East,Kalico,Jane Shilton and Brook Taverner for men. It is also the only store in the town centre stocking leading furniture brands.
Meadows is the newest mall in the town and was completed in the late 1990's, it is built on ground floor level and includes Waterstones (another one), Boots, BHS department store, Burtons Menswear and many more. Despite its status as the newer and better mall, Chelmsford already had its fill of good retailers when it was built, and as such it is normally fairly quiet and serves best as a car park.
The older of the two malls, retailers include HMV, River Island, Boots (a bigger one!), JJB Sports, Millets and many more. Expect a crush at Christmas time, and teens sitting outside HMV at all other times.
Chelmsford is also served by 2 large retail parks offering warehouse-style shopping and big car parking queues on bank holidays.
Chelmsford's situation means that there are not any foods considered 'local cuisine', however there are countless restaurants and food outlets from street vendors and take away shops to Michelin Star restaurants to satisfy any gastro-hungry traveller.
The Alma, off springfield Road currently has one Michelin Star and should satisfy all tastes, there is also a large garden and bar area which caters for unbooked guests to enjoy the extensive bar menu, where a steak and chips will set you back around £15, in the restaurant however this can be as much as £26.
Strada, part of the franchise, has recently opened in Baddow Road, menus are relatively predictable, but a good carbonara should set you back under £10. Pizza Express, also on Baddow Road offeres a fine seletion of italian style pizza and pasta at good prices and far better quality than the nearby Pizza Hut. Expect to pay about £12 for a meal.
There are plenty of options for Indian in the town, again, most of these are located around Baddow Road towards the South of the Town Centre. TM2 is a good option, light, airy and with a good menu, expect to pay around £8-10 for a curry.
Most of the pubs and bars in the town offer some sort of food menu. The pick for quality is Baroosh, located on the high street where food is excellently prepared and presented, expect to pay around £12 for a burger and chips. The best for location is the Riverside Inn, located off Victoria Road next to Riverside Leasure Centre, were its waterside location makes for excellent outdoor dining in splendid gardens.
The best restaurant is the Empire on Springfield Road, meals are rarely under £30 a head but the quality is worth it. Nearly all the other Chinese offerings are 'all you can eat' and the quality, and clientele are reflected by the £10 asking price. Be prepared to be asked for ID also, however old you claim to be!
Chelmsford is overrun by takeaway options, from fish and chips to Chinese its all available late night and for pocket change. None of which can really be recommended as serious dining options, however, for after a night on the town, they are always a welcome sight. Mrs Cod on Moulsham Street does a roaring trade on Friday and Saturday night, but watch out for the hygine, its not great. China China on Moulsham Street, is one of the most favored takeaways in Chelmsford, meals there are of the cheapest and teamed with great quality food, what more can you ask for?! Ming Ming's at 140 Springfield Road is a little off the beaten track, but serves good Chinese food and is often open very late - although Mr Ming has been known to chase away customers with a broom if he is locking up early!
All the usual suspects such as McDonalds Pizza Hut, Starbucks etc can be found on the High Street teeming with teenagers, who are characteristically anti-social and annoying. The Burger King closed in late 2013 as its lease had run out - it always seemed popular. Initial claims that they would reopen elsewhere were quickly reversed, and the only fast food option for a burger now is McDonald's.
Chelmsford has a vibrant nightlife scene with many nightclubs, pubs, wine bars and restaurants in the town centre area, particularly in Duke Street and Moulsham Street. Its central Essex location and good public transport links make the town ideal for revellers to visit from surrounding areas. There is a wide range of bars and pubs in the town center, and explorers should expect to encounter loud, drunk twentysomethings on a late Friday or Saturday night. This is generally quite firmly policed and serious trouble is rare.
Nightlife other than pubs and clubs includes the Odeon Cinema, although people have been known to travel to the Bluewater shopping mall in Braintree or the VUE Cinema in Romford for a better experience. The Civic and Cramphorn Theatres are on Fairfield Road. The Cramphorn is also fully equipped as a cinema and runs weekly showings of slightly more thinking-person's films. Live music venues for touring bands are thin on the ground, however, and there is no longer an under 18 club night on the weekend.
Chelmsford is split by Parkway and as well as dividing prime and secondary retail, this road also divides the nightlife of the town.
South of parkway tends to attract a younger, trendier, and often more volatile crowd. You have the cheap chain bars, alcopops, girls in short skirts and guys out 'on the pull', all accompanied by a commercial 'pop' soundtrack and lengthy queues for a drink.
North of parkway attracts a more bohemian crowd and is littered with traditional pubs rather than the clubs and bars of the high street. You will rarely see the guy checking his hair or the girl in her makeup bag but there are possibly more fun options at this end of town for a relaxed drink or night out with friends.
The most popular destination is Moulsham Street, the former High Street of the Town but now more reliant on the nightlife than anything else. Hardcore revelers often attempt a 'pub crawl' of the entire length, usually called the 'Moulsham 9' although technically the 'Rising Sun' is on New London Road, and Moulsham Street carries on past Parkway, so there are several more pubs and bars on the other side. Often this pub crawl is attempted in fancy dress so don't be surprised to be stnding at the bar next to Scooby Doo at some point!
Generally everyone this side of town just wants to have fun so there is much less 'attitude' than in the town centre, just don't expect luxury bathrooms, Stella on tap or a roaring dance floor.
Out of all of the large towns in Essex, Chelmsford is probably the safest and easiest for the traveller to feel comfortable in. The majority of the locals will be helpful and happy to point out directions or places of interest. While violent crime is fairly low, walking the streets at night should be done with great caution, and it is ill-advised to confront gangs of youths however insulting they may be.
Central Park and West Park should be avoided at night, it is big, dark, fairly deserted and the only other people around will probably be the sort you don't want to meet like burberry wearing chavs, and also avoid any large groups. Since the pathways are fairly long and straight, these can easily be avoided by choosing an alternative route.
The Melbourne and Springfield areas of the town have got a bad reputation amongst locals, although perhaps, certainly with Springfield, it is a case of a few bad apples spoiling the crop. Melbourne should be avoided at night on foot and its pubs should be avoided all together by non-locals (they get very rough) with the exception of the Athletic Stadium and Park, which surprisingly is safe at night, mainly due to the various sports clubs who use it for training.
Dukes Nightclub has seen increasing levels of violence over the past five years as its popularity has grown. Drink-fueled violence is by far the main problem, however drink spiking is also an issue. Best advice is to avoid it like the plague (which incidentally you might catch there).