History books chart much of Maldon’s past but there is a big hole in the timeline. Stephen Nunn investigates.

OVER the years a number of local historians have researched very specific periods of Maldon’s history.

The really great thing about that is, when you join them all together, you end up with a continuous story of the town’s evolution, from the earliest written records right through to present day – well almost…but not quite.

Let me explain what I mean by that. Working backwards through time and glossing over 1946 to 2021 and the 1920s and 30s (both eras which still needs researching), I tried to cover the war years with my two publications, Maldon, the Dengie and Battles in the Skies: 1939-1945 (MAHG 2006) and Maldon, Heybridge and the Great War: 1914-1918 (MAHG 2009).

Maldon and Burnham Standard:  A number of books chart much of Maldon’s history A number of books chart much of Maldon’s history

Through my friend David Hughes’ fascinating book The Maldonians (Folk Corp 1996) we can learn about life here between 1872 and the outbreak of war in 1914.

We then have a gap of some 72 years, but John Smith picks up the chronology with his The Borough of Maldon 1688-1800: a Golden Age (Brewin 2013).

My late and much lamented friend Bill Petchey takes us back to the next stage with his Prospect of Maldon 1500-1689 (ERO 1992).

We then jump to Maeldune: Light on Maldon’s Distant Past (MAHG 1992) which includes evidence from prehistoric times and the very first settlers, through to the earliest written records of the 10th Century and into Norman Maldon, ending around 1150.

So one of the obvious breaks (that is really crying out for research) relates to the 1150s to 1500 and incorporates that fascinating 14th and 15th Century period of British history which encompasses, on the wider canvas, among other things, the Peasants’ Revolt (1381), the Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) and the Battle of Agincourt (1415).

Trying to unpick what was happening here in Maldon at that time is, however, quite problematic. That is partly due to the Peasants’ Revolt itself, for the rioters destroyed many court records including, it would appear, some of those relating to Maldon.

When Richard II became king (in 1377) Maldon was issued with a confirmatory charter.

Sealed on January 10, in the regnal year 1378/79, it reinforces the town’s liberties, but only in exchange for the building (by March 1 at the latest) of a small sea-going vessel, known as a ‘balinger’.

His successor, Henry IV (r.1399-1413) also issued us with a charter and, on that occasion, demanded some 60 shillings in exchange.

The official town records (or ‘books’) begin in January 1384 (the earlier ones having been lost) and include court entries and the annual appointment of the town’s officials.

In those days we didn’t have a mayor as such, but the office of bailiff was very similar.

John Welles held that position in 1384 and had possibly succeeded John Pere.

Other positions included two town constables to keep law and order, wardens of the fair and market, the curious office of warden of the causeway, and weighers of bread, ale tasters (what a job!), affeerers (who fixed the amount of fines for offences) and wardmen (guards of the legal courts).

In 1403 the Lordship of Maldon was granted to Robert D’Arcy, the previously mentioned John Welles and 20 other named burgesses.

Yet a further confirmatory charter was granted by King Henry V of Agincourt fame (r.1413-1422). Issued on November 5, 1416, on that occasion it cost the town “six marks” (£4) and was thought to be well worth the money to reinforce the borough’s ancient rights.

The Chamberlain’s Accounts detail rental incomes for places that include “the parsonage” (presumably All Saints’ vicarage) at 20d in 1458, St Katherine’s Guild (based in All Saints’) in 1494 at 1d for a strip of waste land, and for a garden at a forgotten place called “Brede-hill”, 4d in 1495.

We also learn that in 1494, the unfortunate “John Brian, a heretic, committed suicide in prison” and that the borough seized all of his belongings, valued at a staggering 28s 3d.

At that point Bill Petchey takes the baton, but there is clearly a rich heritage just waiting to be unpicked through studying documentary sources from the 1370s to his starting point in 1500.

As well as those written records, surviving built heritage can really bring things alive.

Foremost amongst the local architecture of that era is the south aisle of All Saints’ Church.

Constructed around 1330, it was extended eastwards to form the D’Arcy Chapel in 1443, where (Sir) Robert was laid to rest in 1448.

Inside the south aisle is a beautifully carved sedilia (a row of stone seats) with ornate arcading decorated with small heads.

These are, in reality, the stonemason’s relatively standard representations of saints and kings, but I like to imagine that among them are the faces of past Maldonians – people who belong to a special era that is still waiting to be rediscovered.

Stephen Nunn