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Andy Stephens 

Marconi veterans who have equipped and maintained world-beating television cameras and broadcasting equipment made by the Chelmsford-based company have been given their marching orders by Chelmsford City Council.

I can exclusively reveal that the Council has told the volunteers they have just two weeks to quit their base at Sandford Mill, which houses Chelmsford Museum’s Industrial Collection, with orders to remove every item they have loaned.

The Council’s shock announcement will virtually denude the Industrial Collection of all of its priceless pioneering Marconi televisual artefacts and memorabilia and end popular hands-on open days for budding scientists.
Museum bosses claim they are merely updating its Arts Council accreditation to include the Mill which must now come under ‘strict criteria’ to reflect current best practice at Museums., but it has left many of the veterans bitter, regarding it as a kick in the teeth.

The band of a dozen or so veterans are former Marconi engineers who designed, tested, installed and often were called upon to operate outside broadcasting equipment at major events.

They covered such prestigious national events like the Queen’s Coronation at Westminster Abbey and Winston Churchill’s funeral, as well as overseas sporting events, including Olympic and the Commonwealth Games.

Eight years ago, led by Andy Fremont, the veterans set up the Mill’s Technical Demonstration Unit, with the blessing of the then Mill curator, Dr Geoff Bowles, and began to equip it with rescued equipment which includes very early TV cameras and one that has provenance for filming the Coronation.

But now the Mill is closed to all but Museum employees and it is believed that Radio Hams have also been told to remove all their radio equipment and ordered to stop short wave broadcasting from the world famous Writtle Hut, which pioneered the launch of the BBC one hundred years ago.

The Hut has been an iconic venue for Radio Hams who took part in the yearly Marconi Day short wave broadcasts, contacting amateur radio enthusiasts all over the world.

Chelmsford MP Vicky Ford commented: “It is clearly a decision made by the City Council not the County so important to engage with the Civic Centre and Chelmsford City Council rather than Shire Hall. I have raised this on a call with the Chief Executive of Chelmsford City Council this morning and asked him to look at this again.”

Chelmsford Council Museum Manager Dave Finkle announced the shock news in an email to the MVA on May 24.
He wrote that the Council had to enforce the strict criteria of renewing its Accreditation with Arts Council England because they were for the first time including the Industrial Collection at Sandford Mill.

He wrote: “Volunteering will now only be periodically permitted if there is a requirement which aligns with the museum programming, subject to approval and resources.

“Only property owned by CCC may be stored in the buildings. Volunteers will be asked to retrieve their own possessions and remove them from the site.

“I know how much you have enjoyed volunteering and these changes, whilst necessary, may be very disappointing, we hold our impressive cohort of volunteers in great esteem and please be assured that you remain a valued member of our team.”

The veterans claim it is all part ‘stealth’ tactic to develop the site as part of the proposed housing estates on farmland flanking the river valley that will triple the size of Sandon village.

Marconi Veterans Association chairman Brian Izzard has maintained ‘radio silence’ with the media while negotiations between the MVA and the council has taken place.

He has met face-to-face with Council officials together with a TV unit volunteer, as well a zoom meeting which including input from a number of Mill vets, but at the time of going to press Mr Izzard declined my approach for an official MVA comment.
One veteran however said earlier today: ”I do feel bitter about it not only for myself but for the eight years spent in time and their own money by some of the top engineers in the world of TV getting it all set up and going. All very sad.

“Fortunately one of our veterans has agreed to take what was once a state-of-the-art telecine unit, which transfers film footage onto TV format , otherwise it was heading for scrap. The world's first digital telecine and Chelmsford museum bosses wanted to scrap it!

“So much for the heritage of the company / city , its strange how the local museum looks after things!! So that's it end of story. Corporate Vandalism.”