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/

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The Barge Graveyard at Maldon

Maldon’s Promenade Park is a popular recreational spot, but tucked away at its easternmost point is a less visited spot.  Known locally as the Barge Graveyard, it’s the final resting place for the old wooden sailing barges that have come to the end of their useful life.  Left to the elements, the tide breaks them down and slowly they rot away to nothing.

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There’s no information or signage on site that offers clues to the provenance of the barges, though the Citizan website has this to say:

“Lying in the Graveyard are the remains of Thames sailing barges British Lion, Vicunia, Pretoria, Mamgu; a lighter; an Admiralty launch, a fishing vessel built in either Scandinavia or Belgium as well as several other vessels.”

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The Visit Maldon District website has a little more detail about when some of the barges were built.  The British Lion was built in 1879, whereas the Vicunia was a much later vessel, dating from 1912.  To put these dates into context, the use of the Thames Barge for commercial purposes peaked around 1914 before going into decline.  Once, transporting goods such as straw, horse feed, bricks and cement to London would have been done by water, with the flat bottoms of the barges perfectly designed to navigate the shallow waters of this marshy coastline.  But then along came faster transport by rail and road and the barges were consigned to history.

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The Visit Maldon District website also explains that some of the boats were partially broken up before being brought to Maldon.  The Pretoria is one such vessel, broken up downriver, with the bottom lying here at the Graveyard.  It was commonplace to break up the barges for scrap and salvage before dumping what was worthless in the mud.

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To get a sense of what some of the boats might once have looked like, it’s an easy stroll along the Chelmer to Hythe Quay.  It’s now the main location where you’ll see such barges in Essex.  Kitty, Hydrogen and Lady Jean are among the active barges based at Maldon.  For a full list, visit the Sailing Barge Research website:

http://www.sailingbargeresearch.org.uk/pages/active_barges_page_1.htm

Topsail Charters offer trips out; periodically these are day sails that teach you a little of the history, bird life and landscape through which you’re travelling.  It’s also possible to follow by barge on race days; Maldon next hosts a barge race in mid-June 2017.  You can find the full public trips schedule here:

http://www.top-sail.co.uk/cruises/day-trips-programme/

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Those vessels that aren’t quite finished also open periodically for tours.  s.b. Pudge, s.b. Centaur and Steam Tug Brent welcome visitors on 30th April and 1st May 2017.  Entry is free but donations are gratefully received.

St Giles Leper Hospital

A leper hospital once stood on Spital Road near the centre of Maldon. The remains of St Giles Hospital are thought to be what was once the hospital’s chapel and can be visited by special arrangement with Maldon Council. One of ten such hospitals that originally existed in Essex, it’s the only one with anything left to see.

Entrance gate on Spital Road across from St Giles Crescent; if the gate is locked you can see through the hedge along the adjacent footpath
Entrance gate on Spital Road across from St Giles Crescent; if the gate is locked you can see through the hedge along the adjacent footpath

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It’s thought that the hospital was founded in 1164 with a grant from Henry II. It was designed to keep sufferers isolated from their community so that the disease would not spread. Leprosy was at those times a common disease throughout England and Maldon was no exception. In 1481, it was granted to Beeleigh Abbey by Edward IV but was closed with the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII. The buildings found a new use as part of the barns at Spital Farm. These in turn fell into disrepair before being pulled down in 1913 to reveal the ruins of the hospital that had been hidden underneath. Restoration was completed by 1927.

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Nearby lie the remains of an early 20th century home also used for treating leprosy sufferers. Also named after St Giles, it was run as a charity by monks and nuns from the Franciscan Order between 1914 and 1947 on a site at Moor Hall Lane in Bicknacre. The bungalows that were built weren’t anything special architecturally, but the establishment of a 20th century leper hospital is thought to be unique and thus the site has significant historical importance.

There may also be a “leper stone” in the north of the county by the roadside in the village of Newport. A sarsen stone with an indentation in the top was supposedly the place where people would leave money or food for lepers being treated at the nearby St Mary and St Leonard Hospital. The jury’s out on this one as there’s no written evidence of that hospital being a leper facility. Human remains have been found nearby, thought to be those of patients at the hospital, but there was no sign of leprosy in their bones.

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