James Fenton (Architect, surveyor and engineer)
Location of board
New London Road, by the cemetery, opposite Christ Church
James Fenton left his mark on Chelmsford in the mid-19th century, as an accomplished designer of chapels and fine classical buildings. He was responsible for laying out New London Road and the cemetery, as well as implementing the town’s mains water and sewerage infrastructure. This means his work is of significant local importance and many of his buildings are now either listed or within designated conservation areas.
Born in Reading in 1805, Fenton moved to Chelmsford to establish his practice as an architect. He lived above a shop at 2 Tindal Square on his arrival, and stayed there until 1834, when he built his first family home at 79 Springfield Road. In 1836, he was commissioned to investigate the options for extending or relocating the Chelmsford workhouse, after which he became a consultant for the Dunmow Union Guardians on alterations to local parish workhouses.
New London Road
From 1839 to 1843, Fenton acquired all of the plots fronting what is now known as New London Road alongside relatives and other local professionals. It was there that he designed the cemetery, the nearby Ebenezer Baptist Chapel and six other buildings, which give the street its grand arcadian style. The land itself was placed under a restrictive covenant to protect its uniform character. It required all buildings to be made of white brick or render, and set back six meters from the road. Fenton then designed the cast iron bridge that carries New London Road across the River Can.
In 1850, Fenton was appointed Surveyor to the newly-formed Chelmsford Local Board of Health, in preference to the younger and inexperienced Fredrick Chancellor, following an outbreak of cholera.
In this role he planned and executed the first major water supply and sewage system for the town, which brought about significant improvements to local health and sanitation. He resigned in 1857 to perform a similar role on the Croydon Health Board
Some time between 1865 and 1869, Fenton moved from Croydon to Brixton with his wife Emma Copland, the daughter of a wealthy solicitor, whom he married in 1830 after settling in Chelmsford.
In 1875, Fenton died and his body was taken back to Chelmsford to be buried in the cemetery.
There is also a blue plaque for James Fenton, at 108 New London Road.