Bishop’s Stortford

St Michael’s ChurchI’ve had the discussion many times about Britain being so rich in heritage that you could pretty much point anywhere on the map and find something interesting nearby.  So as the sun was shining we set out to test the theory.  The fickle finger of fate pointed to Bishop’s Stortford, what’s there you ask, no idea I reply.  Let's find out.

Parking at the Jackson Square Car Park, pretty central, plenty of spaces and about the average rate for parking here, we headed for the Tourist Information Office in Market Square.  Here the lovely lady gave us a free guide and map, plus outlined a route we could take around town to see the sights.  Borrow the key here if you want to see the 10th century ruins at The Mound.

Oak beamed housesRecorded in the Doomsday book as Esterteferd it is thought to have become Bishop’s Stortford, not because it lies on the river Stort but possibly from the personal name of a small local clan.

Just across the square from the Tourist Information Office is the Corn Exchange (now a restaurant) built by Louis Vulliamy, which sports a neo-classical styled facade with Ionic columns and pediments.  As we climbed up the hill to the Parish Church of St Michael we began to observe the impressive collection of 16th and 17th century buildings the town has to offer and opposite the church is the Boars Head Pub a 15th century inn with a medieval doorway.

River WalkIt’s believed that there has been a Christian place of worship on the site of St Michael’s from as early as the 7th century.  The oldest remnants of the building’s past is the vault and a font made of Purbeck marble dating from around 1150.  The manor on the site was sold to The Bishop of London and construction of this perpendicular style English Gothic church began. Restoration in the 19th century added a 185 ft spire and a “peal” of ten bells.  It did look splendid in the sunshine set again a a largely blue sky.  It reminded me a bit of Chichester Cathedral, not as grand of course, but impressive in its smaller form. The church also has a memorial to Cecil Rhodes, son of a former Rector, amongst its monuments but more about Mr Rhodes later.  Should places of worship be your thing, you’ll be able to indulge your passion with ten or more close by.

A walk along the river is a bit muddy from Waytemore Castle and Gardens and a man made path doesn’t materialise until the other side of The Causeway.  Now my nose would begin to grow if I said this is the best riverside walk I’ve ever done, but it is a relatively pleasant way to get to the Rhodes Complex on a nice sunny day.

Titus with bagNetteswell House is the birthplace of Cecil Rhodes and is the original part of the building that now houses the Bishop’s Stortford Museum and the Rhodes Gallery.  The town’s famous son, Rhodes perhaps most famous for being the founder and first Chairman of the De Beers diamond company.  Or perhaps you would recognise him as the man North and South Rhodesia were named after, later to become Zimbabwe and Zambia.  Whilst the museum tells of the success of Rhodes it does not shy away from the human cost of defeating the resistance of the African people.  The remainder of Bishop”s Stortford’s history is not forgotten, with displays about the Gilbey family (drinks distributor), the 16th century Great Seal of the town and a roman skeleton named Titus, who got cosy under my Silver Travel bag.  There’s even something for the cruisers here, with reference to the Pye family.  Captain Henry Pye was, in 1905, the youngest Captain of the P&O passenger line.

So I think I was right in this experiment.  Scratch a little below the surface and have a good look around, you’ll be surprised at what interesting things you can find.

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Steve Aldridge

Award-winning travel writer

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