'happy in the possession of absolutely no history'
The town of Chelmsford had the
famous Grocer's shop of F. Luckin Smith
In 1889, the British Industrial Publishing Company produced a book called 'Industries of the Eastern Counties Business Review: Essex'. This was a review of major manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing concerns in the county, dealt with town by town. It would seem that one had to subscribe to be in the directory as several major manufacturers are notable by their absence. The review was republished in 1982 by Essex Libraries, and it should still be possible to pick up a copy cheaply. It is full of the most wonderful illustrations, culled from a variety of sources, some of which were then several decades old. Each town had its own chapter which started with a nice engraved view of the town and a historical description.
All was obviously well until they got to Braintree. Here, the copywriter began to struggle. Having dealt confidently with Colchester's majestic history, and coped with the broad sweep of events in Chelmsford, he was rather stuck with a town apparently bereft of any distinguishing features. Bravely he wrote
"Braintree, which we read of under the name of "Raines" in Domesday Book, is situated 11 miles north by east from Chelmsford, and is a market town of Essex, of which the latter place is the chief town. Although a place of considerable antiquity, Braintree has been fortunate in lying outside the area of the great political and social convulsions which have played so conspicuous a part in the domestic history of so many of our English towns, and therefore possesses little in the shape of matter for the chronicler The parish church, which is under the invocation of St. Michael the Archangel, is a .fine Gothic structure, and dates back to a very early period, but contains little of interest to the general reader, though within its precincts the archaeologist or the antiquary will find plenty of room for reflection "
Likewise, when he got to Halstead, his heart must have sunk, and he was inspired to write
"The town is neat, clean, and pleasant, and the streets are wide and spacious. Halstead is to be numbered with those towns which are said to be happy in the possession of absolutely no history. Although a place of some antiquity, no famous battles have been fought here, no illustrious prisoners have pined here, and no historical murders of expediency have here been enacted."
Perhaps the local historians of Braintree and Halstead would beg to differ with these sentiments but on those days, 'history' meant splendid battles, stone castles, and chaps in doublet and hose.