Chelmsford, Essex – The American Connection

Chelmsford Cathedral
Chelmsford Cathedral

The last time I met my cousin in Chelmsford for lunch, I was slightly early, so I decided to visit the chapel containing the memorial to the Essex Regiment in Chelmsford Cathedral.

The Essex Regiment memorial
The Essex Regiment memorial
Chapel with The Essex Regiment memorial in the background
Chapel with The Essex Regiment memorial in the background

I looked for some information about the chapel but couldn’t find any. However, I came across a leaflet entitled ‘Chelmsford Cathedral – The American Connection’ which grabbed my attention. I had no idea Chelmsford had any connection with America.

Apparently, the first American connection involved Thomas Hooker who was born in Leicestershire around 1586. In 1625, he was appointed Town Lecturer of Chelmsford and was a popular and powerful preacher. However, Bishop Laud of London didn’t approve of his outspoken views and brought charges against Hooker in the church courts in an attempt to silence him. In 1630, Hooker fled to Cuckoos Farmhouse in the nearby village of Little Baddow, where he founded a school to teach young ministers. Two years later, he fled to Holland with his family and a year after that, he sailed for Boston, USA. The family settled in New Town, which was later called Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1634, he led a group of people one hundred miles into the Connecticut River Valley where they established a new colony at Hartford. This is where Hooker established his first church. He died in 1647, and his statue can now be found in front of the Old State House, Hartford Connecticut.

Other ministers from Essex, together with their friends and family, fled to America and in 1653, the town of Chelmsford was founded near Concord, Massachusetts.

Apparently, there is no memorial to Thomas Hooker in the cathedral. However, another American connection was rather more obvious and I found it in the South Porch. During the Second World War, there were several US airforce bases in Essex and in 1953, a stained glass window commemorating the American men who served here, was unveiled by Field Marshal Viscount Lord Montgomery and General Griswold, USAF.

Window in the western side of the south porch
Window in the western side of the south porch
Window in the western side of the south porch
Window in the western side of the south porch

The inscription running across the bottom of the three windows says “To the glory of God and in gratitude for tasks and friendships shared by the people of Essex and the United States Air Force between 1942 and 1945. This porch was enriched and beautified by Essex friends of the American people in 1953.” Above, are three emblems. The one on the left is that of the Department of the American Air Force. The middle emblem is the eagle holding an olive branch in one talon and the arrows of war in the other, with the stripes of the US flag and the thirteen stars arranged in a flower above. The emblem on the right is the inspiration for the Stars and Stripes in the Washington family coat of arms.The arms of the family are a white shield with two red stripes across the middle and three red stars above them.

Another American link with Essex is that President George Washington was the great, great grandson of a rector from Purleigh, Essex. Not exactly Chelmsford but not a million miles away!

Plaque commemorating the bravery and courage of all those who served in the Royal Air Force from Essex airfields .
Plaque commemorating the bravery and courage of all those who served in the Royal Air Force from Essex airfields .

And just because the story I’m currently writing is set in Essex in World War Two where the hero is an RAF pilot based in Horchurch, I took this photo in Chelmsford Library which is a plaque commemorating the bravery and courage of all those who served in the Royal Air Force from Essex airfields .

And after that, it was time for lunch with my cousin!

I’m grateful to Gillian Brandon who wrote the informative leaflet that I picked up in Chelmsford Cathedral.

And here is one last picture of the outside of the cathedral with its spring flowers.

Cathedral grounds
Cathedral grounds