CHELMSFORD has just billowed with new developments. Broomfield and Links Drive are the right side of the railway tracks, Boarded Barns the wrong side. A lot of investment has been made in shopping. There are several out-of-town superstores including Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, and two malls – High Chelmer and The Meadows – while the Thursday antiques and secondhand market continues to draw the bargain-hunters. Essex Country Cricket Club, in the centre, is due to be redeveloped to provide even better sports facilities and 300 new homes. Chelmsford’s grammar schools are a magnet to those disillusioned with London state schools. A family house in a leafy street will cost £340,000 to £400,000. The town is due to sprout a further 40,000 homes in the next few years around Boreham Airfield, Broomfield, North Springfield and Beaulieu Park. The surrounding countryside, despite its savaging from developers, still contains some wonderful surprises. The station lays claim to being the busiest in the country, funnelling thousands to join the 175,000 a day arriving at Liverpool St. Extra trains start here, in an attempt to provide more seats. A second station has been proposed on the north-eastern fringes at Springfield, but has yet to become reality.
On the east flank of the town is Sandon, with a pretty village green. A three-bedroom cottage on the green will cost around £200,000, while a four-bedroom property with two acres would fetch £925,000. Modern four-bedroom houses are £600,000 to £700,000. The village is very much a dormitory, protected by the A12 bypass, and the roar of the traffic is still audible in some of the houses. The excellent comprehensive school has a large sixth form and draws children from further afield, including Maldon and South Woodham Ferrers. A monthly farmers’ market is held in the village hall.
A little further out is Danbury, larger than most people’s concept of the archetypal village and on the busy A414. It has its own shops and pubs, some of them 16th-century, and the Common, woods and lakes are big attractions. A period house with four bedrooms would cost £695,000 at least. ‘It’s a commuter village but not posh. It’s not a don’t-touch-me place. Everyone and his grandmother goes there on Sundays for a walk,’ was how one local pundit described it. Others, however, consider it very smart. The heather and bracken of Danbury and Lingwood Commons (National Trust) provide one of the few known breeding grounds for the Rosy Marbled Moth. Blake’s Wood offers 100 acres of hornbeam and chestnut coppice carpeted with bluebells in the spring. Kelly Turkey Famrs here sell organic free-range chickens and turkeys which are traditionally reared. Little Baddow, scarcely separated from Danbury, has more airs and graces. It has a lovely cricket pitch in the woods and huge five-bedroom houses in quiet Rysley cul de sac that sell for up to £750,000.
Another classic commuter village is Stock, with its cluttered narrow streets, pond and village green, though it suffers from the traffic on the B1007. It has its own wine store, post office, general store, newsagent, fish shop, florist, hairdresser, and Italian restaurant, and a wealth of societies from flower arranging to drama and the British Legion. The local church is worth a visit in order to admire its intricately constructed timber belfry. The village also has a brick tower windmill with two sails attached, which is tucked down the aptly named Mill Lane. This is one of several surviving mills that are a feature of the Essex countryside. A Grade II listed 18th-century refurbished former farmhouse would cost £685,000; a three-bedroom end-of-terrace with gardens and parking around £350,000.
To the west of Chelmsford is a clutch of picturesque villages. Writtle is close in enough to be a suburb, with a five-bedroom detached house near the village green costing £725,000. The green and duck pond are the envy of the county. Hylands Park is a Grade II* restored Neo-Classical wonder with its grounds open to the public. It provides the setting for the annual V Festival of music.
Nearby is a collection of hamlets, linked to Chelmsford by an intermittent bus service, where four-to-five-bedroom houses cost anything from £330,000 to £950,000. Mashbury is without a pub or shop or jumble sales, but remarkable for its togetherness. Good Easter has one of the oldest barns in the country and a village green with a pump on it, where a three-bedroom semi will cost £300,000. High Easter is the prettiest, with a café and a restaurant. A four-bedroom timber-framed detached house will cost around £500,000. Chignall Smealy and Chignall St James have some timbered houses and a pub called the Three Elms. Pleshey is particularly sought after because of its thatched cottages, church and motte-and-bailey castle. A four-bedroom house with outbuildings and four acres of land could cost £750,000.