Museum of Power, Langford

How many Essex attractions can you truly say have something for all the family? At the Museum of Power, there’s something for everyone: kids, granny – even the dog. This impressive museum is housed in what was once the Southend Waterworks Company’s pumping station. But it’s not in Southend; you’ll find it in the village of Langford, near Maldon and just a ten minute drive from the A12.

Southend Waterworks Company had been founded in 1871. It supplied water to those living between the Crouch and the Thames, pumping water from local wells. But the growing demand was rapidly becoming difficult to satisfy and to enable capacity to increase, an act of Parliament was granted which permitted the company to use water from three local rivers: the Blackwater, Chelmer and Ter. Langford, though some distance from Southend itself, was chosen because of its proximity to the three rivers and its terrain, which lent itself to the process.

At the time the pumping station opened in 1929, it had a daily capacity of around 8.5 million gallons. But times change, and if the same station supplied Southend today, it would need to increase that figure to 132 million gallons. Water was filtered at the plant and sent back out again. In those days, there were a trio of steam-driven engines, the third added in 1931. But the pumping station eventually came to the end of its working life in 1963. For the last two decades, it has been a museum.

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Named Marshall, the third engine is today the museum’s most magnificent exhibit, taking centre stage in the main hall. It was a labour of love to restore it to its former glory, taking a dedicated team of volunteers around six years to complete the job. You can read more about this impressive engine here. Outside, among the vegetation as if they’re specimen plants, you’ll find more engines. They might not have Marshall’s stature, but they’re fascinating nevertheless.

As the daughter of a tool designer and engineer, I was particularly interested in the Edwardian workshop with its collection of belt-driven machines. Many of them had been rescued from the scrap heap in the 1980s and date from the mid 19th century to the late 1920s. You’ll find all sorts of other engines in the hall, which would have originally been inside trains, planes and even a World War Two tank. Steam-driven machinery operates each day, with as much rotation as possible so that the engines are kept in good working order.

If you’re keen to see full steam days, the museum lays on about ten each year. The most popular event of the year is an American classic car show. This year, cars will drive through Maldon High Street on Saturday 1st September and the Museum of Power hosts the show itself on Sunday 2nd. The following weekend, entrance to the museum is free for its heritage weekend, and as with all special events, Marshall will be puffing away.

For something completely different, the Steampunk Essextraordinaire takes place on 16th September. If you’ve ever wondered what steampunk is, or want to try tea-duelling, then you should definitely check this one out. On many of the event days, you can take a short ride on the narrow gauge steam railway which loops the site and there’s even a model village too. The full programme of events can be found here.

It costs about £400 for the oil to run the machines for these special events, which is why you won’t find everything up and running every day of the week. But the museum’s worth a visit regardless. There are plenty of kids’ activities throughout the summer, though book ahead to avoid disappointment. The museum has its own tea room in what was until 2011 the machine shop. There’s plenty of seating both indoors and out, and there’s even a small space where dogs are welcome indoors, so you don’t need to leave your furry friend at home if rain threatens.

For opening times, admission costs and lots more information about the Museum of Power, please visit:

http://www.museumofpower.org.uk/

I’d like to thank the museum for the complimentary admission I received. All views expressed in this post are my own.

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Warner Textile Archive

If you’re a fan of fashion or fabric, then there’s a place in Braintree that’s well worth an hour or so of your time. The Warner Textile Archive is housed in what was once a power loom shed for Warner & Sons. After the mill closed in 1971 there was a move to retain such an important part of Braintree’s heritage. Today, this beautifully restored wooden structure can be found just a stone’s throw from the shops of the town centre.

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Warner & Sons was founded in the latter part of the 19th century and moved to Braintree at about the same time, though the family had been involved in the silk weaving business since at least the late 17th century. Benjamin Warner and his two sons, Alfred and Frank, knew their business well and soon established an enviable reputation as weavers of furnishing silk. After his father’s death in 1908, Frank took the reins. Moving with the times, powerweaving was introduced just after the First World War.

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The company had many important clients including the Royal Family. Many of the silks used in the upholstery and soft furnishings of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle have also been made by the Braintree-based business. Having such important clients was not without its challenges, however. In 1888, Queen Victoria placed a significant order for hand woven silks that were to be used for curtains and upholstery at Windsor Castle. When she changed her mind about the colour,  a third of the order had already been made. The resultant costs were met by the company.

That loyalty and high standard of customer service has been well rewarded over the years. Warner & Sons have made silk for every British monarch’s coronation since that of Queen Victoria. It made the silk used for the train that Queen Elizabeth II wore to her own coronation in 1953. Important clients are not limited to royalty. The altar cloth commissioned by St Paul’s Cathedral in 1925 was made by Warner & Sons and in World War Two they manufactured silk for parachutes.

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In addition, Warner & Sons’ standing in the trade meant that it was a magnet for those hoping to raise their own profile. Many talented freelance designers worked with the company to produce unique and highly desirable fabrics. Many of these innovative prints and patterns can be viewed today at the Archive. Sadly, photography is not permitted inside, so if you’d like to see for yourself you’ll have to pay them a visit. The Archive is used as a museum space and there’s also a small shop on site if you’d like a memento to take home.

At the time of my visit, the exhibition “Warners in colour: a tool for design” made for an easy introduction into the world of fabrics. I also learned how silk imported from Asia was dyed to bespoke Warners colours in the company’s own Dye Lab. We sometimes forget how influential North Essex was in the textiles industry but, like Paycockes in Coggeshall, it’s good to be reminded of our industrial heritage.

Casual visitors are welcome at Warner Textile Archive every Wednesday as well as the first saturday in the month. The Archive also puts on regular workshops, covering skills such as linocut printmaking and cord spinning – book well in advance as these fill fast.

http://www.warnertextilearchive.co.uk/

The Moot Hall, Maldon

It’s been a mediaeval manor house, a police station complete with holding cells, a court room and a council chamber. Now it’s a visitor attraction and wedding venue. Located in the heart of Maldon’s High Street, the Moot Hall is one of the most fascinating buildings in Essex and a must if you’re planning a visit to the town.

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Tours begin on the ground floor of what was once the family residence of the D’Arcy family. You may know the name from the nearby village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy. Sir Robert D’Arcy built his mansion somewhere around 1420 and 1436. A lawyer by trade, he was a wealthy and powerful man, holding the office of MP for Maldon six times as well as being the Escheator for Essex, which meant it was his job to collect property from the deceased and return it to the Crown. The mansion was his way of showing off that he could afford a brick construction when everything else in the town was built using timber. D’Arcy employed Flemish bricklayers to create a three-storied keep and stair turret. It’s believed to be the oldest secular brick building not just in Essex, but in the country as a whole.

The house had a complicated history under the D’Arcy family. It’s unclear if it was ever completely finished and certainly by the mid 16th century what was left of the property had been sold. Today, the ground floor room is a bit of a patchwork of different styles and bricks, as it has been converted in use so many times over the years. Even the door has been rehung , as the graffiti on it reveals the name to be upside down.

A curved brick stairwell leading from the room is impressive and what remains of the old prison door helps you visualise how crowded this room might have been during its spell as the town gaol. A low doorway to the rear of the room leads out into a 19th century exercise yard, where graffiti on the brickwork includes what appears to be a bayonet amid many names and initials.

Upstairs tells a different story. This room, bearing a grand fireplace and exposed mediaeval brickwork, was used as a courtroom in the 19th century and has been left furnished as such. Sit in the dock, take your place on the witness stand or if you prefer, preside over proceedings from the bench where the magistrate would have sat as late as 1950.

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On this level is a balcony with views along Maldon High Street, a reminder of the large number of historic buildings that have been constructed during the town’s long history.

Up a steep staircase is the room that used to function as the council chamber. On its wood-panelled walls are copies of the town charters, the earliest dating back to the 13th century.

A narrow, even more vertiginous staircase accessed by a Guillotine-style door leads to the roof. On a clear day it’s possible to see for miles: across Maldon, across the Blackwater and across the surrounding countryside.

I’d walked past the Moot Hall countless times and never given it a second glance, but to miss this would be a shame. The Hall is open for guided tours from March to October each Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning. Admission costs £4 per adult and it’s not necessary to reserve in advance.

http://www.themoothall.co.uk/