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New row over site of mansion 50 years on

By This is Essex  |  Posted: February 17, 2011

  • MANSION: The Vineyards was demolished to make way for "skyscraper" flats

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THE issue on everyone's lips at the moment in Great Baddow – the demolition of Marrable House – was exactly the same this time 50 years ago.

Just a few weeks ago more than 100 angry residents piled into Sandon School to oppose plans to turn seven-storey Marrable House, once voted one of Britain's ugliest buildings, into an extra-care housing scheme for the elderly.

The former Royal Mail admin office has been empty for eight years now and the future of the building – often regarded as a monstrosity by locals – has been a big problem for just as long.

The same happened in 1961 when 100 or so residents piled into a parish council meeting to oppose plans to demolish the Georgian mansion, which would go on to become Marrable House, and replace it with three eight-storey blocks of flats.

The front page of the Essex Chronicle read SKYSCRAPER FLATS START A BIG ROW – Tempers flare at meeting.

Parish councillors called the meeting to allow locals to air their views on the "diabolical" scheme to demolish the Vineyards.

Edward Knowles, assistant area planning officer for Essex County Council, said they wanted to gauge local feeling before considering whether to give developers the green light to build the flats.

The Vineyards, built more than 150 years ago, had then stood at the junction of the Maldon and Southend-bound roads, surrounded by high brick walls.

Villagers roared that such a development would change the character of the village, and although the majority today are in favour of knocking down the office block, they too fear any future developments will be out of character with the area.

Alan Buckroyd, 74, who has lived in Great Baddow since the debacle first began, said: "Marrable House was contentious in the 60s because some jiggery pokery went on in the planning process as it was all done in secret.

"As soon as it was built the planning officer said it was the worst development in the country.

"It is still a monstrosity now, and one which the new developers are trying to fix, but they aren't listening to what the people actually want.

"The mess was made in the 60s and the villagers knew it was a mistake, but the developers had to make money, and it is the same issue now."

In the 60s meeting, one villager said: "No one has any objection to the flats but it is because they are skyscrapers that people are against them."

"These flats will also be an interesting feature on the Baddow skyline." said Mr Knowles with a smile.

But one woman villager said they looked like penthouses and another angry voice urged that they should be built where they fitted into the surroundings.

Mr JN Foxon JP prophesised: "These flats will change the character of the village completely. I do not subscribe to the idea that Baddow is an urban district – it is rural.

"I think we should turn down this plan as unsatisfactory and ask the developers to submit another one."

Sixty residents voted to reject the plan, with 19 for while 14 hands went up in favour of an alternative plan.

Today's decision will be up to Chelmsford council's planning committee, but developers Rubicon West have yet to submit an official planning application.

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