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.
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.
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.