Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Living in Halstead

In the early 1980s, Anne and I lived for a while in the charming Essex market town of Halstead.

We had been living at Pegwell for a few years, while I was General Manager of the Classic and Kings Cinemas at Ramsgate, and later while I managed the old Marlowe Theatre at Canterbury.

I answered an interesting looking advertisement, telling me that a Trust were operating the Halstead Empire Theatre, an independent cinema / theatre, and were seeking an experienced Manager. I applied for the appointment, and was invited to an interview.

I had actually forgotten what a nice town Halstead is. I come originally from Essex, but most of my experience of this large county had been in the Southern half, around Southend. But before and after the interview I strolled up and down the High Street, thinking that it would be really nice to live there.

So when I had a call at the Marlowe that evening (yes, I had gone back to work) offering me the job, I very happily accepted.

We moved to Halstead, and lived for a short while in a flat beside a shop. I was quite proud of the fact that it had a pargeted picture of a stagecoach on the front.

The downside of living there was that, as there was no pavement or even garden outside our lounge, lots of people thought it was a jolly good idea to bang on our window every night as they were going home after intellectual exercises at the pub.

After a couple of months, the council found us a house in Mitchell Avenue, on the South side of the River Colne, the same side as the cinema. The steep High Street is on the North side.

Hard work promoting the Empire meant that I had very little time off. When I did have a day off, which was most Mondays, we tended to visit other towns, notably Chelmsford, Colchester and Braintree.

The Colne Valley railway line, which had a station at Halstead, had been dismantled under the Marples axe in the 1960s. However, there were regular bus services to Braintree and Chelmsford to the South, and Earls Colne and Colchester to the East.

While we were living in Halstead, our son Neil was born, at the maternity hospital at Lexden, a suburb of Colchester. Another prospective Dad waiting at the hospital like me was Ray East, the Essex cricketer.

Three years later, our daughter Gillian was born, in hospital at Braintree.

I stayed as Manager of the Empire for eighteen months, and then decided that I did not wish to renew my contract. But we continued to live in Halstead, where I took a full part in local affairs.

I took part in lots of Carnival processions, including those at Halstead, Braintree, Earls Colne and Coggeshall. I sat on the committee of Halstead Gala Week, and acted as a steward out at Gosfield in a cycle race.

An organisation that I set up was Halstead All Year Events (HAYE for short), to bring entertainment and the arts to the town and its surrounding area, and also to try to promote tourism.

I chaired public meetings, including a controversial one on the rights and wrongs of fox hunting. Among the speakers were the Master of one Hunt and the Secretary of another. They both congratulated me afterwards on my impartiality. When I replied that I would always be impartial as the Chairman of a meeting, they divulged that they knew my personal feelings on hunting.

I was also Vice Chairman of Braintree District Arts Council.

While in Halstead, I made my first foray into local politics, taking part in Town Council elections. In the end, I came seventh out of seven, but did much better than that sounds.

I did all my campaigning myself as a one man operation. Unlike the other candidates, who all represented parties, I stood as an Independent, and I did not have the financial resources to print posters, leaflets etc.

There were only about 70 votes separating the top from the bottom in the results, so it really was very close. And I knew that all my votes had been cast for Colin Crosby personally, whereas a substantial proportion of the other candidates’ votes would have been for Labour, Conservative, Liberal or, in Halstead’s case, the Residents’ Association.

Halstead really is a very nice town. It has a thriving street market, in the steepest High Street of any town I know.

We finally left it, though, when I went to work for Rugby Enterprise Trust, helping Rugby’s unemployed back to work. We moved to Brownsover, an estate on the edge of Rugby.

If anybody reading this has any connections with Halstead, or North Essex generally (Born? Lived? Worked? Ancestors? Relatives?), I would be very pleased to hear from them.