I HAVE always been intrigued by the evolution of place names and what those changes can tell us about our local heritage.

If, for example, I asked you whereabouts in Maldon were Molehills and Upper Pound Mead, the chances are you wouldn’t know.

If, however, I then revealed that they later became known as Longfield and Fairfield, your response is likely to be a bit more positive.

For residents of my age, Longfield will forever be the town allotments.

Nowadays, however, the site is the location of the Longfield Medical Centre, a large grass expanse, enclosed play area, youth shelter and an avenue dedicated to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Fairfield, on the other hand, is less immediately identifiable. Granted we do have Maldon Housing Association’s Fairfield House, alongside Fambridge Road, and that certainly takes us in the right direction.

But the main body of the Fairfield is now actually occupied by the Plume Academy and associated grounds, including their extensive sports field.

The school only moved to this location in 1907, but why was it, and why is it still known to some, as the Fairfield?

Chelmsford Weekly News:

  • Cattle grazing on the field. Photo: permission Kevin Fuller

The most obvious conclusion is that it is where the town fair was originally held.

Maldon has certainly been the venue for fairs for centuries. Our charter of 1171 gives the town the right to hold its own fairs “without toll” (tax).

During the 15th and early-16th centuries, Maldon held one fair annually, but in 1555 this increased to three (each lasting four days).

These were in March, August and September. By the 18th Century there were just two – in late March (the Lady Day Fair) and September. When I say “fairs”, these are not the sort of occasions that we think of today, with rides and sideshows.

They were primarily for the sale and purchase of cattle, but did occasionally have added entertainments.

Strictly controlled by borough officials, these early fairs were held in the main Market Place (outside All Saints' Church) and on Potman Marsh, public land alongside the Causeway linking Maldon to Heybridge.

Then, in 1847 and much to the annoyance of the Potman Marsh supporters, the corporation moved the fair to “Dr Plume’s field and not in Great Potman where it had been held since 1791”.

The reference to Dr Plume, we discover, is because both Longfield and Fairfield formed part of the Plume Charity. A contemporary directory (of 1848) states that “two annual fairs (are held) for cattle, toys, and pedlery (goods, or small wares) on the first Thursday in May and September 13th and 14th, on the fairground southward of the market place”.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

  • The school, field and cricket pitch. Photo: permission Kevin Fuller

In fact the annual stock fair in September, at least, also included attractions like shooting galleries and roundabouts, more reminiscent of the sort of thing that we think of today.

Not only did the fair relocate from Potman to Fairfield, but so too did Maldon Cricket Club and some important matches were played on that hallowed turf, not least Maldon v All England XI on Monday, August 11, 1873, and Maldon v Mr Thornton’s XI on Wednesday, June 19, 1878.

That latter match included, in the visitors line-up, as well as CI Thornton himself, the “Demon Bowler” – FR Spofforth, and EM Grace (brother of the famous WG).

At one point the visitors hit the ball right out of the ground and into Fambridge Road and, at the conclusion, they won by an innings and 30 runs.

Cricket, by the Maldon Club at least, ceased when the school opened in 1907, but the grammar school made good use of the old cricket pitch and that was still the case when I went to the Plume in the 1970s.

There is a lot more to the Fairfield than fairs, cricket and education.

It was the regular venue for town celebrations throughout the 19th Century. During the Second World War it was used by the Home Defence Services and bombs were dropped on it on at least two separate occasions – on October 18, 1940, and March 10, 1941.

Whenever I walk past Fairfield and see present day students playing sports, I think of all of those past events and although the old cricket pitch might now be covered over by an all round artificial (AGP) synthetic surface, the legacy of the Fairfield most definitely lives on.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

  • The site as it is today