All in a day’s work

The Maldon Shed.

Maldon Cemetery was opened in 1855, a time when many municipal cemeteries were opened and the old town churchyards were closed in response to a number of Burial Acts passed from 1852 onwards. The Corporation (as it then was) would be surprised by the cemetery as it is today. It still lies outside the built-up area of the town, west of what was a railway line and is now a by-pass, but only one of its two chapels is still standing (and is still occasionally used). The other brick building in the cemetery was a mortuary, but is now a Shed; that is to say, one of the growing number of Sheds (usually Men’s, but not necessarily) that, to quote the Men’s Sheds Association, are similar to garden sheds – a place to pursue practical interests at leisure, to practice skills and enjoy making and mending. The difference is that garden sheds and their activities are often solitary in nature while Men’s Sheds are the opposite. They’re about social connections and friendship building, sharing skills and knowledge, and of course a lot of laughter.

The idea seems to have originated in Australia and Maldon’s Shed, opened in 2014, was one of the first in this country; it was set up with the support of Maldon District Council (which owns the building) and is run with the support of Maldon and District Community Voluntary Service (CVS). So successful has it been that the CVS has gone on to facilitate the Essex Shed Network, funded by the Essex Community Foundation and the Community Resilience Fund, and by the National Lottery Community Fund. There are now eighteen sheds in the county, either open or in the process of being set up.

Headstone of Maldon’s VC, Private Frederick Corbett, erected in 2004 over his previously unmarked grave. He was awarded the VC in 1883 an died in 1912.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the old cemetery, a lot of work has been done in recent years to clear undergrowth and to maintain the cemetery in a state where it can be enjoyed by visitors as well as providing a haven for wildlife. Much of this work is being done by volunteers, under the Council’s Parks and Countryside Community Officer, Sue Finch, and I was able to see them in action pulling brambles from hedges and tidying up round a pond. At the same time, on the western boundary of the modern cemetery, two Community Payback teams were working to clear an overgrown ditch.

A German visitor starting up the steam pumping engine ‘Marshall’, under the watchful eye of trustee and volunteer co-ordinator Ray Anderton.

Just over a mile north of this hive of activity is another: the Museum of Power at Langford. It started life as Langford Pumping Station, completed in 1927, whose original purpose was to pump seven million gallons of drinking water every day across the county to Southend. To perform this heroic feat it was equipped with two steam-driven Lilleshall engines; a third, named Marshall, was installed in 1931, and this is the only one that survives. We saw it being run on compressed air, but on high days on holidays, or when someone is prepared to pay for the coal, it runs on steam. Around it has been collected a wondrous and varied collection of engineering artefacts, all looked after by a team of volunteers with just a single paid member of staff. It’s a wonderful place to visit, as a German family was discovering when I was there with the Chairman of Maldon District Council, Henry Bass – clearly the word is spreading.

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