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Marrable House and the Vineyards

With the demolition of Marrable House now complete (2016), a number of readers have been asking about its creation and occupation. So, as it's now been consigned to history, here's a short account of one of Great Baddow's much talked-about buildings and its contemporary, companion development, the Vineyards. :-

The Sixties was a time of major change and challenge in Britain. New ideas in music, fashion and public lifestyles were accompanied by emerging trends in design and architecture – things were starting to "swing". One of the growing concepts in architecture was that of building upwards - land was becoming scarcer and the population was growing rapidly. "High-rise" and "skyscraper" were terms that rolled off the tongue. It was in this climate that Marrable House & The Vineyards were built in Great Baddow in the mid 1960's on the site of the former Vineyards country house.

The Sixties was an era of protest and, unsurprisingly, Great Baddow residents engaged in their own protest movement about the destruction of a lovely property right in the middle of the village and its replacement with not one, but two "skyscrapers", totally out of keeping with the nearby historic buildings.

Marrable House was planned as a six-storey office building for use by the Marconi Company, which already had a strong presence in Chelmsford and had Research Labs at Hanningfield Road in Great Baddow. It was to be accompanied by a new Shopping Precinct with flats above – the Vineyards. These new buildings were completed in the mid-60's, just months before the creation of the village Conservation area.

The Vineyards in Great BaddowThe old Vineyards estate, formerly known as "The Vines", had been owned in 1611 by Lord Petre (now owner of Ingatestone Hall). The large Georgian house, still remembered by some older residents and also called The Vineyards, was built in 1746. It was totally surrounded by brick walls and the base of some of these is still visible along Maldon Road. The Post Office Directory of Essex 1851 records the Reverend Bullen (probably Abraham Colin) as residing in the Vineyards. In the 1880's the Rev Bullen still lived here - according to Baddow Life Issue 4 (Summer 2004). Reverend Abraham William Bullen, the son of Revd. Abraham Colin Bullen, is recorded in White's directory of 1863 as being a resident of the village and Vicar, and the Essex Record Office has details of the probate of his will, created between 1887-1893 which includes the sale catalogue of furniture, china, library, etc. at the Vineyards, Great Baddow, 1888. Country Life, Jan 28th 1911, contained an article about some minor modifications made by the owner at that time, Arnold Mitchell, in 1907.

A map of 1897 shows how much the Vineyards dominated the centre of the village
1897 Map showing The Vineyards in Great Baddow

As mentioned in letters elsewhere on this site , the Vineyards was used during World War One as accommodation for servicemen.

At some subsequent time in the early Twenthieth Century the grand house became a hotel, the Vineyards Hotel. Miles and Ann Humbert were the last owners of the Vineyards Hotel, leaving in April 1961 after 10 years. The Essex Chronicle reported " The fate of the Vineyards Hotel hung in the balance after the Humberts went west, because the buildings and its extensive grounds were earmarked for development, leading to a massive protest from horrified villagers that continues to this day. " Essex Chronicle editor Rae Handley, who wrote of the Humberts' departure, remarked: "Whether the Vineyards should stay as it is or be knocked down and the site used for building three eight-storey blocks of flats is still undecided. The result of the recent public inquiry is awaited with interest by many."

So it could have been an even bigger eye-sore if developers had had their way back in the Sixties! And here's how it actually turned out (reproduced with kind permission of The Francis Frith collection) :-

Bringing back memories of some of the earliest shops in the Vineyards - David Sames (Chemist), Sketchley (drycleaners), the greengrocers, the butchers , and Martins (newsagents). {If you can add others please get in touch.}

As mentioned previously (and not surprisingly in view of their large workforce in Baddow and nearby Chelmsford), Marconi were the main tenants of the upper floors of the office block from its earliest days. When Marconi's local presence went into decline (in the 1990's), Royal Mail , in January 1993, became the main residents and also opened a ground floor shop selling mainly Royal Mail memorabilia. It is interesting to note that the last occupier of the actual offices, from 1st floor upwards, was Marconi's, who finally left on 11 Feb 2004.

The ground floor of Marrable House has had various other tenants over the years and among those that come to mind (possibly imagined in some cases?) are a butcher's, a launderette and Templeman's Opticians, which was believed to have been used until 2007 with their shop later becoming used as a Youth Drop-in Centre run by Chelmsford YMCA. In its final years of occupation, the Site manager for Rubicon West, owners of The Vineyards, occupied the Royal Mail memorabilia shop. where he was surrounded by old, unused display cases. Around 2008/9 Essex Police also used a rear ground floor office of Marrable House as the base for local officers and PCSO's, with the presence of the police cars in the car park seen as a deterrant to anti-social behaviour in the vicinity. There are also memories of occasional use by Essex Fire for rescue training.

Very few locals seem to remember the existence of a Gulf petrol station in the car park in front of Marrable House, but here is the photographic evidence to support this Gulf petrol station at Marrable House & The Vineyards in Great Baddow

According to the Planning Brief produced by the Chelmsford Borough Council in December 2003, Marrable House was described as having a 'tired exterior and most of the building has been unoccupied for some time'. It is now 'not suitable for modern office requirements and is almost unlettable'.

Which brings us back to more recent times and almost in a complete circle, with protests again being raised by residents against a variety of proposed uses.

In June 2010, the Chelmsford Weekly News reported "PLACARD-WAVING residents from Great Baddow packed out Chelmsford Council's chamber on Tuesday, to show their opposition to a re-development planned for the Vineyards neighbourhood area in the centre of the village. Council officers had recommended approval of the demolition of a vacant six-storey office block, Marrable House, to be replaced by a similar size building, along with a second, linked, three-storey building fronting Maldon Road. It would provide 60 extra care flats for the frail and elderly. "

And again in 2011 :-
"YOU should be ashamed of yourselves" and "you're a disgrace" were just some of the parting shots from fuming residents as they left a heated planning meeting. Chelmsford Council's planning committee approved an application to demolish Marrable House, in The Vineyards, Great Baddow, on Tuesday, November 15. Murano Properties Ltd will replace the so called "eyesore" built in the 1960s with 58 residential flats for the elderly in two new buildings, which will be linked by an enclosed pedestrian bridge - one will replace Marrable House, the other will face Maldon Road.

A Special Planning Meeting was held on 3rd September 2014 at the Parish Hall to discuss the plans to demolish Marrable House and build residential flats. The planning permission forms had been submitted by Weston Homes on 21st July 2014. Wind forward to 2015 and Weston Homes' revised plan for 53 flats finally succeeded in gaining approval from Chelmsford City Council. Two buildings, one with 17 flats and the other with 36, and a 66-space car park, made up Weston's design for Heron Gate - as the new development will be known [Here are a sequence of photos taken during the development.]. So finally to 2016 ... and the demolition of "one of the ugliest buildings in Britain" [recorded here in pictures]

The author (MC) is extremely grateful to the following for their researches and contributions - Clem Dobson, Amy Foster, Steven Jordan. If you have any photos, recollections or details that you'd like included, please email us. [May, 2016]

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