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Newsletter, January 2003 (Issue 150)

Maldon & Burnham-on-Crouch


On 21 September 2002, a smallish party of 28 proceeded towards Essex. We were lucky to have almost constant sunshine. We stopped in Maldon (the name means "Cross on a hill top") a late Saxon town, not a Roman town insisted our excellent Blue Badge town guide who took us round the town for over an hour. Situated at the head of the estuary of the River Blackwater, Maldon was a port in Saxon times. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the town was granted a Royal Charter by Henry II in 1171. These links with royalty and the port are shown on the town sign: three lions on the left and a ship on the right.

The town has three medieval churches. All Saints has the peculiarity of having a triangular tower (13th century) probably because of lack of space. This feature is unique in the UK. Several statues on the outside of the church represent significant figures in local history, from the 7th century St Mellitus, who first brought Christianity to Essex (and is shown sitting down because he had gout) and Brihtnoth, the hero of the Battle of Maldon against the Danes in 991, who lost the battle and his head but showed great courage and is buried in Ely Cathedral, to Thomas Plume, Doctor of Divinity, a great scholar who in the 17th century gave his library of 5,000 books to the town of MaIdon.

We also saw a stained glass window given by the citizens of Maiden (sic) Massachusetts in 1928, the Washington Window. The great- great- grandfather of George Washington, vicar of Purleigh, is buried in the church. The vicarage is the fourth oldest building in the town, after the churches.

We wandered through the town centre in which a large number of medieval buildings remain, often covered by 18th or 19th century fronts. On the side of the Bell pub we could see the old beams behind the more modern window. Maldon seems very proud of its Isth century famous citizen, Edward Bright, who died of typhoid at the age of 29 weighing 44 stones (though his obesity was a problem). Seven hundred men could fit inside his waistcoat (seven men from the Dengie Hundred). The "heart of Saxon Maldon" was represented by an irregular shaped pond which until 1900 was used to wash clothes, water cattle and wet carriage wheels.

For the second part of the morning, some members went to visit the Maeldune Centre which houses an exhibition and the Maldon Embroidery retracing the history of the town. With another group I visited the Moot Hall. This red brick building was originally built for Robert D'Arcy in 1435 and heightened to become a three-floor tower in 1576. It was then sold to the Borough for £55 (expensive at the time) and has since always been used by the local government.

The ground floor room had various uses, from warehouse to prison and police station, and is now a committee room. We visited the small exercise yard whose walls are covered with graffiti from the prisoners, and admired the magnificent spiral brick staircase, with inbuilt handrail. There are only two others in the country, one being in Oxburgh Hall visited recently by the Society. The first floor houses the court room, which is still in its 18th century state and was used until 1970. The balcony overlooking the High Street is still used on civic occasions. The council chamber, used until two years ago, is on the second floor. Steep steps brought us to the roof and gave us a chance of admiring a magnificent view over the town and the wide estuary full of boats (and with a Thames barge). We could see the site of the Battle of Maldon, facing Northey Island. At low tide there is a causeway joining the island to the mainland, through which the Danes invaded and fought Brihtnoth. While we were on the roof top the bells rang 12.30 joyfully and loudly.

In the afternoon we went to Burnham-on-Crouch where we were free to explore. That quiet riverside town is home to several yacht clubs and the river was very full of boats. I wandered along the promenade fronted by quaint pubs, houses and gardens, and went to sit at the head of a small promontory enclosing a little cove filled with yachts and smaller boats. There was a gentle activity with a few sails sliding noiselessly on the river. Thoughtful of our troubled world, I relished the peace and quiet, and felt thankful to Adrian Patten for organising the day.

SOPHIE PRYOR

    Front cover of issue 150 Cover, issue 150

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