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The Cater Museum

Billericay High Street is much loved by residents and visitors alike. Although some detrimental changes to the owner-occupied shops that lined this wide thoroughfare were allowed to take place in the '60s, many fought to keep the development to a minimum. Unfortunately, the ancient Tudor jetty-fronts were eventually converted to plate-glass display windows, but some historical aspects were saved.

We are grateful to the late Harry Richman, a remarkable local historian and artist who preserved the town pictorially. He and Mrs Alice Cater, then chair of the local Council for the Protection of Rural England, worked hard to create a museum for Billericay. She purchased the building in 1958 and two years later, our museum opened.

Harry Richman became the first curator. His artistry can be appreciated in an excellent book BILLERICAY THROUGH THE EYES OF HARRY RICHMAN. This was produced by Christine Brewster, third curator and Barbara Birdsall in celebration of the museum’s 50th anniversary in May 2010.

Various books by other historians - including the second curator Ted Wright - give us remarkable insight and background to many aspects of the town’s life and history. So this small museum at 74 High Street enters its 57th year. Often described by the travel pundits as a “Billericay’s secret gem”, the building contains many fascinating artefacts, books and paintings. However, it has a special secret - a jewel which distinguishes it from other town museums. Its rear garden is the last of its kind in the High Street - still intact and treasured.

Whereas once, all the shop-keepers and their families who lived “over the High Street shop” enjoyed their extensive back gardens, when motorcars became a way of life, space to park them was needed. Gradually, the gardens and orchards which featured in Harry Richman’s books were grubbed up. Where the cherry trees blossomed in summer, hard granite and concrete replaced them. When interviewing older residents, several mentioned favourite trees that had stood in their back gardens that were allowed to remain. One still grows in Waitrose car-park.

Fortunately, subsequent curators have possessed an interest in gardening and wildlife. The delight and care of the blue tit’s nest, the planting and nurturing of the numerous shrubs and herbaceous plants and the bees nest, all of which complement the amazing collection of Victorian artefacts within the old building, make the Cater Museum the place to visit this summer.
Open Mon-Fri 2-5 Sat 1-4