MALDONS MOOT HALL

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					    MALDON’S MOOT HALL

OBSERVATIONS ON THE REPAIRS OF 2006




          Report for Maldon Town Council
                  by David Andrews
                Essex County Council
         Historic Buildings and Conservation
MALDON’S MOOT HALL. Observations on the repairs of 2006

Introduction
The Moot Hall is one of the most historic buildings in Maldon. Since the 16th
century, it has had a central role in the life of the town as the town hall. It is also
important architecturally as one of the earliest brick buildings in Essex or indeed
England, with an important place in the story of the revival of the practice of building
in brick which occurred in the 15th century. It is, however, a building about which
curiously little is understood. There is uncertainty about when it was built. Bill
Petchey, Maldon’s historian, put it to the middle or late 15th century (Petchey 1991,
3, 90). Current opinion is that it was constructed by Robert Darcy in the 1420s (Ryan
1996, 52-53), which would make it the earliest surviving 15th-century brick building
in the county. Later alterations have left the Moot Hall with virtually no original
architectural features apart from its magnificent spiral staircase to help with the
problem of its date. Brick or stone towers are not a common feature of late medieval
towns, and the building has few known parallels, the best being the Hussey tower on
the outskirts of Boston, probably built 1450-60 (Smith 1979). Like the Hussey
Tower, the Moot Hall did not stand in isolation but was part of a larger complex of
buildings which comprised the mansion of the Darcy family who were lords of one of
the two manors of Maldon. The layout of these buildings has been the subject of
much speculation. Petchey (1991, 90), for instance, suggested it was of courtyard
plan, the Moot Hall being a corner tower, and unfinished.



                                                          The Moot Hall as
                                                          represented on the 1st
                                                          edition Ordnance
                                                          Survey map of 1875




From the early 16th century, the Darcy family were not regularly resident in Maldon
and began to lease their property there. In 1550, Sir Thomas Darcy exchanged
property, including the Maldon manor house, with the king for St. Osyth Priory which
became the family seat (Petchey 1992). The tower subsequently passed into private
hands and was bought by the Borough in 1576 which wanted it to replace the old
timber-framed Moot Hall that stood further to the west in the High Street. The tower
had been neglected for much of the 16th century and the Borough refurbished it, the



                                                                                       1
work including wainscot panelling, new doors, a timber-framed gallery with a tiled
roof and new window. 1

The Tower acquired its present appearance as the result of a radical remodelling in
1810, when its wall to the street was refaced in white brick, the existing classical style
porch was built, the windows were changed, and the parapet reconstructed (Petchey
1991, 3). Inside, the existing first-floor court room and second-floor council chamber
were constructed.


Works to the Moot Hall
In 1991, the Kit Shop on the east side of the Moot Hall was refurbished and
discovered to occupy a brick structure adjacent to the Moot Hall and clearly once part
of it, its eastern wall being of substantial timber-framing which was all that was left of
a timber building which must also have formed part of the Darcy properties. A report
on these discoveries was published by Dave Stenning (1992).

Extensive repairs were carried out by Bakers of Danbury in 1986 under the
supervision of Jim Boutwood of the Essex County Architects Department. Work
included a full height rebuild of the north-west corner of the building. In 1994,
repairs were carried out to the roof by Bakers of Danbury. A timber seen in the roof
on that occasion bore an inscription recording repairs in 1881.

In 2006, the tower underwent a further programme of repairs by Bakers subsequent to
a quinquennial inspection by David Whymark. These mainly consisted of roof
repairs, the replacement of the belfry with a new structure on a like-for-like basis,
stitching to cracks in the brickwork, and the redecoration of the court room. The
removal of plaster for the structural repairs revealed a number of previously concealed
features at ground and first floors which have led to a revision of interpretations of the
appearance of the Tower when first built.


The front elevation
Limited areas of plaster removal on the inside face of the front wall, just to the left of
the existing 19th-century entrance door, revealed the chamfered brick voussoirs of the
springing and part of a low arch. Where the plaster had been taken off, this feature
could be traced for a length of 1.48m. A little (1.26m) to the left (or east) of it, further
partial plaster removal exposed the right hand springing of another arch. Very little of
this was uncovered, but sufficient was visible to indicate that the arch was of the same
height and shape as the first. By inference from the visible dimensions of these
arches, it can be estimated that they were about 6 feet (1.8m) wide, and separated
from each other, and from the inside corners of the building, by piers of brickwork
about 2 feet wide. In effect, they fill the width of the front wall of the tower.

The top of the arches are about 3.25m above existing floor level. Of course, it is
uncertain how high the arches were, whether they were windows or doors, but one
must have been a door and possibly both were. The arches are rear arches, supporting
the main body of the wall thickness behind arches of different shape, presumably

1
    Essex Record Office D/B 3/3/261, cited by Pat Ryan, The Darcy Tower, Maldon (typescript notes).


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                    Interior elevation of the front wall of the tower


pointed, on the outside of the building. They are probably similar to the entrance to
the spiral stair at the ground floor, where there is an almost flat rear arch whilst the
doorway proper is a low pointed arch. The brickwork of the arches had been ruddled,
or painted with a red wash, and the joints lined out in white to give the impression of




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                        precise workmanship. The bricks infilling the arches were
                        of 18th-century type, indicating that they had not been
                        blocked until 1810.

                        This discovery becomes more significant when it is
                        appreciated that the Georgian first floor windows are of
                        much the same dimensions, except that they are slightly
                        wider with splayed reveals and rise to a height of about 4m,
                        almost from floor to ceiling. Although the evidence has not
                        been observed, it looks very much as if there were originally
                        similar apertures at the first floor which in 1810 were
                        enlarged and had sash windows inserted in them.
Ground floor door




   Reconstruction of the front of the tower, also showing the building to the east



                                                                                     4
The chimneybreast
At first floor, a tiny portion of a rubbed brick arch was exposed where plaster was cut
back along the line of a vertical crack. Being on the inside face of the wall, this could
not have been for a window. When it was pointed out that its position corresponded
to that of an external chimney, it was at once apparent that it must belong to a frieze
of trefoil-headed arches of the type to be found decorating some 15th-century
chimneybreasts. Removal of more plaster revealed this to be the case, two pairs of
trefoil-headed arches being uncovered. Each pair of arches frames a recess about 2
feet (600mm) wide, the trefoils springing from an elaborately moulded corbel. Above
them is a relieving arch about 6 feet (1.8m) wide. The trefoils are made from very
precisely cut single bricks with curved backs. The quality of the workmanship is
high, but made to look better still by the use of a red wash and white lines to indicate
the mortar joints. The recesses are plastered and limewashed. It might be expected to
find painted decoration within them but of this there was no evidence.




                            Reconstruction of the fireplace




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The arched recesses had been filled in, with reused Tudor-type bricks and 18th-
century bricks, the former being used within the arches and the latter lower down,
though the work all seemed of the same date and attributable to the 1810 remodelling.
The lower part of the recesses had been destroyed and cannot be reconstructed in
detail. The blocking penetrated through into the flue behind the wall, the join
between the new bricks and the old being made good with wooden wedges in places.
The left hand recess was the better preserved. At the bottom of it, there was a
stretcher brick which had been cut through, and below it a course of brick on edge,
also cut off. This truncated brickwork had projected outwards and presumably
formed part of the chimneybreast, possibly representing a decorative feature such as a
row of crenellations. No exact parallel has been identified amongst known early brick
fireplaces (cf. Stenning 1989). Below the wooden beading forming the top of the
dado, opening up of another crack revealed the right hand jamb of the fireplace
opening. This was formed in chamfered brick. At about 1m above the floor level, the
beginning of an arch springing was detectable, indicating that there was a low arch
over the fireplace which was about 1.8m (6 feet) wide.

The chimneystack on the outside of the west wall of the Tower is rectangular and of
shallow projection. It has never featured in any previous consideration of the Tower,
probably because its brickwork looks 18th- or 19th-century, and it looks largely
rebuilt. It has been repaired in recent times and reinforced with iron straps. However,
there can be no doubt that there always was a chimneystack in this position.


Other features

At the first floor, two blocked apertures original to the 15th-century brickwork were
found at the south-east corner. Just to the east of the windows in the south wall, the
edge of a splayed reveal was discovered. If there were indeed windows in this
position, then this might have been a niche, a not unusual feature of brick and stone
buildings. In the east wall, part of an arched embrasure, possibly also a niche, was
                                             uncovered. It had a beautifully made low
                                             arch, its brickwork ruddled and lined out.
                                             Only the right hand part of this was seen.
                                             Its left hand part may have been blocked
                                             with Tudor brickwork, but it is more
                                             probable that it had been cut through, since
                                             the crack which had led to its discovery
                                             seems to correspond to a vertical building
                                             joint observed in 1991 to run through the
                                             first and second floors. The significance
                                             of this joint is uncertain.

The embrasure in the east wall

The first-floor binding joists have been cased, presumably in 1810, and made to look
larger than they are. Repairs to the wooden casing temporarily revealed the bottom of
a beam with a casement and bead moulding identical to the beams at the ground floor.




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Redecoration of the court room involved cleaning back layers of paint which
produced evidence, mainly seen on the ceiling, of previous paint schemes. These
were all Georgian as they respected the cased in binding joists. The basic pattern of
decoration seems to have been as follows, beginning with the earliest:
1. a dark cream which covered the entire area. It had a very smooth surface and a
sort of ‘scumbled’ finish, as if wallpaper had been removed from it. One suggestion
was that this was the result of nicotine staining.
2. a coffered pattern was painted on the ceiling, the rectangular central parts of it
being painted grey green within a thin black line, the borders being a grey-brown
colour. The latter extended on to the binding joists which were picked out with black
lines at the angles.
3. the entire ceiling down to the picture rail was painted a rather bright sky blue.
4. white distemper or similar.
5. the existing off-white emulsion.




                       Plan of the first floor of the Moot Hall



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Discussion
It can now be seen that the Moot Hall was not a plain, rather featureless brick box, but
instead a town house which presented an elevation to the High Street with a
symmetrical pattern of doors and windows. At the ground floor, there were probably
two doors, one of which may have given access to a shop, the other to the spiral stair
to the first-floor chamber. Here there was a pair of windows. These may always have
been large and possibly may have originally given access to a balcony, as the
Borough constructed a gallery at this level after purchasing the Tower in 1576. In its
west wall, this chamber had a fireplace at least 1.8m wide, decorated with trefoil-
headed recesses. The interior was not plastered: the brickwork was ruddled and the
joints lined out with limewash.

If this interpretation is correct, the Moot Hall is an urban brick building unique in the
present state of knowledge, comparable in its front elevation to buildings in the Low
Countries or France and Italy. Although in plan it certainly resembles the Hussey
Tower, in elevation it does not and seems much less defensive in character than
previously thought. However, it is difficult to reconcile the cross-shaped loophole in
the west wall, and the possible evidence for another in the east wall, with this view of
the building. If correctly dated, the Moot Hall is the oldest known building in which
trefoil-headed arches occur. These were to become a feature of 15th-century brick
buildings, from defensive gatehouses to church towers and porches and
chimneybreasts (cf. Andrews 2004). Their use at the Moot Hall is so competent, as is
the brickwork generally, and the spiral stair in particular, that there can be little doubt
that Low Countries bricklayers were involved in its construction.

The limited evidence seen suggests that the appearance of the Tower remained
substantially unchanged until the remodelling of 1810. This involved blocking up the
ground floor doors and replacing them with the existing one, enlarging the first-floor
ones, and replacing the gallery with the classical porch. Inside, the walls were
plastered and the ‘gothic’ features removed to create an appropriate setting for the
first-floor court room.


Acknowledgments
I am grateful to Owen Daw of Bakers of Danbury for alerting me to these discoveries;
to Peter Delderfield and his colleagues for showing me what they had found; to Pat
Ryan and Dave Stenning for the benefit of discussion with them of aspects of the
tower and what had been seen in 1991; and to the architect David Whymark for
facilitating the recording.


Bibliography.
Andrews, D.D. 2004 Nether Hall. A fortified manor of the Wars of the Roses, Essex
          Archaeology and History 35, 78-97.
Petchey, W. 1991 A prospect of Maldon, Chelmsford: Essex Record Office.
Ryan, P. 1996 Brick in Essex from the Roman conquest to the Reformation,
          Danbury: Pat Ryan.
Smith, T.P. 1979 Hussey Tower, Boston: a late medieval tower-house of brick,
          Lincolnshire History and Archaeology 14, 31-37.


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Stenning, D.F. 1989 Early brick chimneystacks, Essex Archaeology and History, 20,
          92-102.
Stenning, D.F. 1992 The Moot Hall, Essex Archaeology, Essex County Council
          (newspaper supplement inserted in the Essex Chronicle, unattributed article
          at p. vii).


David Andrews
January 2007




POSTSCRIPT

Bakers of Danbury subsequently removed the plaster from the dado in the court room
because the oil-based paint or finish would not accept new paint. Inevitably this
disclosed further information about the 15th-century fabric, the main points being as
follows:
       1. the splayed reveals of the front elevation windows are original, not
       Georgian.
       2. the two features found in the south-east corner were low in height, which
       makes it probable that they were niches.
       3. the embrasure or recess in the west wall seems to be a window which was
       cut through the original brickwork, but blocked up when the court room was
       laid out and furnished as it is today.
Heritage channel/Maldon MootHall.doc




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