ONE of the really great things about architectural history is that the fixtures and fittings of older buildings can provide us with tangible links to the past – transporting us back to a different age and a community of now long-gone residents.

Take, for example, the humble, utilitarian boot scraper.

These simple, more often than not blacksmith-forged or cast objects somehow have a sort of Dickensian charm about them, worn down by the soles of countless wet, mud (and goodness knows what else) covered boots and shoes.

Nowadays, they are something of a puzzlement, but they were once an essential item for the house-proud Georgian and Victorian householder.

They started around the same time that walking became fashionable for the middle and upper classes, but when roads were not yet Macadamised.

The consequence of not being up on your horse or huddled inside a carriage is that you could end up with something nasty stuck to your foot, especially as the streets were covered in the manure of passing traffic.

To avoid walking any of that unwelcome muck into the house, the boot scraper was born as a kind of early doormat.

At first (during the late-17th and into the early-18th century) they were freestanding, with a thin wrought-iron blade attached to two “anchors” fixed in the ground, but were latter built into front walls (a hole with ornamental surround and cross bar), or as an integral part of hand rails attached to steps.

In fact, they could take on many elaborate and decorative forms, especially those associated with the elegant townhouses of the more well to do.

There is a surprising number of surviving boot scrapers still in situ here in Maldon and the other day I decided to go in search of some of them.

As a sample area I chose a route along some of our older streets. Starting in London Road, originally the main muddied thoroughfare in and out of town, I spotted my first scraper at number 10.

Unfortunately it is just a stump in the ground now, to the left side of the door.

Many scrapers like this have disappeared over time, or have become damaged, or buried under successive layers of paving.

At number 4 London Road, however, there is a fine pair of scrapers built into the lower part of the ornate handrail and splayed outwards so that the mud would not land on the step.

The side door to Bright’s solicitors (technically West Square) has a much simpler, single, left-side version.

Turning into Gate Street, there is another basic scraper on the right hand side of the top step at number 3, now Kew Law, previously Crick and Freeman solicitors (but with that scraper feeling more like Scrooge and Marley).

The pair of attached cottages at 7 and 9 both have scrapers, albeit that both are almost buried (7 deeper than 9).

They really come thick and fast in Silver Street.

There is a nice scrolled ornamental pair with feet at number 8 (Maldon Court) that Mayor Krohn would have used when he lived there with his family at the turn of the 19th Century.

There are two at 17 (both the side and front doors), a similar pair at 4 and a single at 7 (now part of the Blue Boar).

Opposite, and built into the wrought handrail at the Bell House, are two straight blades.

The clientele of the Bell pub would have used these on their way into the bar in 1845, when John Smith was landlord and doubtless checked they hadn’t walked any mud in.

High Street next and there is a remaining stump to the right of the main door of All Saints’ Church and a lovely arched example recessed into the 1810 façade of the Moot Hall that the magistrates, solicitors and accused would have used before climbing the stairs to the drama of the courtroom above.

A similar hole is also at the Art House café (number 41, formerly a bank), although the metalwork has long since disappeared.

Left down Market Hill and there is an attractive pair of rail scrapers at The Limes and others at number 10, once used by the Congregational minister, the Rev Billio who called it home until his death in 1734.

There is another pair at 14 and a single, right-hand side, scraper at number 18.

Leaving the area and climbing Cromwell Hill, surprisingly, with the exception of one to the left of the door to Cromwell House, the scrapers there seem to have all disappeared.

Back into Silver Street, left, then right into High Street and there is a rail pair at ‘Stonecroft’, MPP Solicitors at 22, formerly home to local gentry the Piggots.

Another pair survives at Oakwood House (2 High Street) and we are then back in West Square and turn full circle by finishing off where we started in London Road.

So just six streets which contain in excess of 20 scrapers, or pairs of scrapers, that have stood (pardon the pun) the test of time.

All of them were used by people that passed here before us, but have left behind these special metallic clues to their past, connecting-blocks to a time when mud was the scourge of the pedestrian.