THERE is no doubt that there are some fine historic buildings in Maldon.

They have been recognised as such by the experts for decades and the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments, published in 1921, highlighted some of the best of them.

Unsurprisingly, their list included All Saints' Church, its vicarage, the Moot Hall, King’s Head, Blue Boar, St Mary’s Church, the Swan, St Giles Leper Hospital, the Plume Library and Beeleigh Abbey.

Thirty-three years later, architectural historian Dr Nikolaus Pevsner made his own selection in his volume on Essex (Penguin 1954).

The usual buildings are there, along with others such as the Congregational Church, Friends’ Meeting House, St Peter’s Hospital and East Station.

Pevsner’s work was revised and updated by Dr James Bettley in 2007 and as of 2021 we have no less than 222 recorded listed buildings within the town boundary alone.

Beyond the official (national) listing, the district council also maintains a register of local heritage assets where another 30 or so town properties are included.

Collectively all of these ancient buildings make Maldon the unique place that it is.

For me, however, beyond those easily recognisable and popular gems, the local vernacular is just as important.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Number 7 alongside Friars Lane

Many of those functional, some might say rather utilitarian homes, are passed by every day without a second glance, but wonderful secrets lie hidden within their walls and behind their façades.

My cousin recently asked me about one such structure – a building that is now two – numbers 7 and 9 Fambridge Road.

He had been led to believe that they are amongst Maldon’s oldest and so wanted to know exactly how old, who built them and why.

He had been inside number 9 and been shown a floor said to be made of re-used “upturned grave-slabs from the Friary”.

That would date those stones to sometime between the Friary’s foundation in 1293 and its closure in 1538, but is it really true?

The cottages certainly sit alongside ‘Friars Lane’, an apparently ancient track-way to the Carmelite precinct (centred roughly where the library now stands).

So are 7 and 9 of a contemporary date? They are undoubtedly special, so much so that they are themselves Grade II listed.

The official record talks of the building being “subdivided into two dwellings”, giving us a clue that they started life as one.

The dates given are 17th Century with 18th to 20th alterations and extensions.

The materials used in construction also provide clues – the timber-framing, render, partial weather-boarding and red brick extension and tiled and slated roofs.

The central division apparently hides an original entrance, once leading to a lobby with two parallel cross-wings either side.

The rear extension to what is now number 9 dates to c.1900.

The biggest surprise, however, is the fact that it was once a single-storey building with an attic.

The upper floor was added sometime in the 18th Century, when other changes were made – like the open pediment above the door at number 7 and the similar open-pedimented door case at 9 and original sash windows.

Other early survivals include a chamfered spine beam inside, as well as a stair to the rear of the stack and a protective “daisy-wheel” carved into a timber inside number 9.

As important as the structural remains are, it is the human habitation that really puts flesh on those skeletal, timber bones.

Starting with the Census return for 1911, builder William Savill and wife Nelly and her father, William Brock, were living at number 7, and commercial clerk Harvey Crabb and wife Nellie, along with a border, teacher Bertha Gibbons, were at number 9.

Going back ten tears to 1901, ironmonger Henry Moody and wife Ann were at 7, and the Crabbs were at 9 – Harvey and his widowed mother.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Number 9, the location of those mysterious slabs

In 1891 Sarah Harrington and her granddaughter were at 7 and widow Crabb and Harvey at 9, along with a border.

Harvey, his mother, sister and maternal grandmother were at 9 in 1881, whilst the Smiths (incredibly 10 of them) squeezed into 7.

The Crabbs, husband, wife, one son, one daughter, grandchild and nephew were at 9 in 1871, the Smiths at 7.

The Crabb family provide us with a “back in time” continuity with a previous generation of them – Jonathan, a vet, and his family living at 9 in 1861 and 1851.

We are probably now at the stage when the conversion to two cottages occurred. Prior to that it had actually been one house, with an upper floor that had been added sometime towards the end of the 18th Century.

Before that extra story, it was a low hall used as a sort of warehouse by oatmeal miller John Brown junior.

His family mill was nearby and he had bought what was to become 7 and 9 back in 1668.

So clearly, as suggested by the listing, there was an existing building there during the mid-17th century.

Trying to get back earlier than that proves problematic.

The late Bill Petchey shows no houses in that part of town on his reconstructed map of Maldon in the 16th Century.

Arthur Simpson was equally unable to evidence the role of Friars Lane in his history of the friary (1986).

So, as it stands at the moment, the friary link cannot be positively advanced and it may well be that the only confirmation of age will come with either dendrochronology dating of the old timbers or, more exciting still, the lifting of those mysterious slabs.