After living in London 1984-87, I flitted to Chelmsford, Essex and stayed there from 1987-92 (92-99 abroad), then 1999-2000 (00-02 abroad), then 2002-2006 (then here to Oman). From 2000-2002, we rented out our house while we were abroad. During my time in Chelmsford, I continued to work in London and commuted into Liverpool St Station, also using the Tube. When I worked in Docklands for a while, I drove in.
I really liked Chelmsford a lot - and Essex generally - and especially when I first moved there and I was probably one of the few Scots living in the county-town at the time. People were really friendly and chatty and made me feel at home and the town definitely felt like a country town rather than a London satellite. I got the impression back then that people were mainly local born and bred rather than London overspill and older ones had "country" sounding accents rather than the estuary accents I had expected. They still had a cattle market when I moved there (I don't mean Duke's Bar which was a 'girls in white-shoes' cattle-market !). When my parents came to visit one time, my Dad and I went to the chippie and looking at the menu on the wall, my Dad asked about their fish "Are there any bones in this plaice ?"
. Quick as a flash, the woman answered "Nah mate, just nails and wood !"
My Philippine wife and our 2 Phil/Scottish kids assimilated there (we moved there after coming back from Indonesia) and any internal worries I had that they might be given a cold shoulder were completely false. They fitted in easily with the community (Filipinos usually do and they don't segregate themselves on religious or cultural grounds). My 5 year old son, who before had only spoken Bahasa Indonesia and a little English, soon came out of his shell via his schoolmates and surprised me one day when I caught a packet of Walkers vinegar crisps he threw to me and in a local accent exclaimed "Nice catch mate !"
. He'd arrived ! His class were all local white kids and my son was the only ethnic outsider. When in 2000 we left to go to work abroad again, before we went his class had a wee ceremony for him and his classmates all came up and gave him a hug and some had tears and there was a going-away present. It made me feel like an olympic-sized ogre* for dragging him away from his pals.
* I used ogre as I didn't think I could use the word prick.
I noticed a difference when we came back in 2002. Bit by bit, there was a lot of binge-drinking and fighting in the main streets at night and splashes of 'claret' on pavements and walls next morning, chavs hanging around outside McDonalds, lots of people from London, Romania and Eastern Europe generally and asylum seekers arriving from Africa etc etc and the place had grown by leaps and bounds with lots more housing. The cattle-market had gone, giving way to a car-auction.
Not too long after we came here to Oman, our friends in Chelmsford told us the crime rate had soared and the place had gone steadily downhill.
So now it is possibly just another London satellite town. I hope not. Chelmsford - even with its nick, was always a lovely town and I was happy when I lived there.