The Meadows Listening Bench

We’re the proud new host of Chelmsford’s first listening bench, located just outside The Meadows on Backnang Square. We’re excited about the bench and think shoppers and city visitors will love the opportunity to take a seat, sit back, and spend some time listening to Chelmsford’s past.

The bench features six clips, gathered from recordings in the Essex Sound and Video Archive, which include fascinating facts on Chelmsford’s heritage and people’s childhood memories of the city from the 1920s to the 1940s. The clips also discuss the likes of Hoffmans’s ball bearing factory, the impact of the First and Second World Wars, and even have a feature on the opening of The Meadows in 1992!

Chelmsford is not the only city in Essex to be hosting a listening bench though. With support from The Heritage Lottery fund, a total of 18 benches will be installed across Essex, and they’re already installed in Basildon, Colchester, Southend-on-Sea among other places. All the benches are solar powered and feature clips of archive recordings in that area.

The launch of Chelmsford’s very own bench comes with perfect timing, as whilst we reflect on the city’s impressive and colourful past, The Meadows celebrates it’s part in the most recent era – as we turn 25 this year! With more celebration details to be announced in the coming months, make sure you stay tuned on social and online to hear how we are celebrating this milestone birthday.

We spoke to the Derek Peacock and Linda Vigor, the volunteers who selected the audio clips for Chelmsford’s bench, and asked them about the memories they selected for Chelmsford to listen to.

What made you want to be involved in this project with the Essex Record Office?

Derek – The listening bench co-ordinator told me about the project at a historical evening held at the Ideas Hub back in January. A talking bench sounded like a great way to bring some of Chelmsford’s oral history to a wider audience, and give people a sense of what life was like in the city in years gone by.

Linda – I have been researching my own family history for many years and am also interested in local history.  I live in Rayleigh but I have worked at County Hall in Chelmsford for over two years.  The project has helped me to find out a lot more about the town in which I now spend quite a large part of my time.

What attracted you to selecting these audio clips for Chelmsford to listen to?

Derek – I tried to pick clips which presented different aspects of the city’s history, from the personal perspective of the people interviewed and also from the significance of particular events, such as the war. I also liked the clips which made reference to particular streets and places, as these will give the listener a sense of context and help them relate historic Chelmsford to modern locations in the city.

Linda – I enjoyed listening to the people and finding out about their way of life in bygone days. I almost felt I got to know the people on the tapes and now, as I walk around the town, I reflect on how different it would all look to them now.

What is your favourite audio clip and why?

Derek – My personal favourite is Mr Fleming’s childhood memories of walking to a local farm to buy milk and collecting mushrooms for breakfast on the way home. I liked this because it is a reminder that Chelmsford was once a rural market town, and hasn’t always been the busy urban centre that it is today.

Linda – We are very fortunate to have lots of material recorded about Chelmsford so we were really spoilt for choice when it came to choosing clips for the bench. In fact the hardest part was choosing which ones to leave out. We ended up with quite a variety of topics –  from the day WW1 planes flew over Chelmsford to the day the Meadows shopping centre first opened. I thought that Muriel Lee’s description of the childhood games she played back in the 1920s was especially charming.

What do you hope people in Chelmsford will get out of the new listening bench?

Derek – I hope that these stories of Chelmsford from years gone by will interest people, entertain them, and make them see the city in a new light. I also hope it inspires some of them to look further into Chelmsford’s long and varied history and make their own discoveries about the city in which they live and work.

Linda – I hope people in Chelmsford will enjoy finding out more about the town and the way of life of the people of Chelmsford in the past.  Even if they don’t want to hear the clips it is a lovely bench in a pretty spot by the river so it will be useful in more ways than one.

Why not take part in our Summer Listening competition to test what you have learned from the clips?

Simply fill in a competition entry card from the box in The Meadows and answer the question to test what you remember from the listening bench and you can win a pair of Beats headphones!



Terms & Conditions

  1. Competition live until 13th August.
  2. One winner will be selected at random from all entries made in to the collection box on 14th August.
  3. 1 pair of headphones will be given to the winning customer and cannot be exchanged for cash.
  4. Any personal data given on the competition entry card will not be shared with any 3rd party