Town councillors vote 3-0 to throw out Bircherley Green plans – No!!

It was with a wry smile that I read in the Hertfordshire Mercury that Hertford Town Council had voted unanimously to reject the planning application to redevelop Bircherley Green.

This would be fine if it wasn’t so wrong or, far from the truth. It was the Planning sub-committee that voted to reject the plans.

There are or were, eight members of that sub-committee. One has since resigned as his seat is now subject to a by-election. Of the remaining seven three left the meeting room owing to a conflict of interest. Comments were reported by the Mercury from three councillors so it can be extrapolated that the seventh councillor did not turn up as the vote was in their words – unanimous, with no one abstaining.

This was not a three man judging panel as found at boxing matches or a jury of twelve good men and women deliberating on a verdict at a High Court trial. It was three councillors on a reduced sub-committee taking a joint decision. It is taking the concept of democracy a bit too far.

Even so Hertford Town Council is not the Planning Authority. East Herts Council is. Hertford Town Council’s comments will have the same weight as anyone else who chooses to respond to the planning application whether for or against. The case will be assessed by a Planning Officer and whether recommended for approval or rejection will still be heard by the Development Management Committee at the earliest opportunity. This could be May but possibly as late as June or July before a final decision is made.

I do wish the Mercury could get it right sometimes.

Returning to the sub-committee I am pleased that Cllr Haddock has the interests of Folly Island at heart but I am sure the matter of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west was discussed with residents and later addressed by Wrenbridge with their consultancy team.

On the other hand I have known Cllr Ruffles for a long time. He has always been a good friend of Folly Island. I talk to him and ask his advice and opinion on all sorts of things from floods and local history to the state of the alleyway at the back of my house. Our paths have crossed at the many committees, forums and focus groups that exist in this part of the world. He knows where I stand on all things political and once found great pleasure in leaving me alone in the middle of Salisbury Square on a particularly windy Saturday morning holding on to a very large Conservative Party umbrella whilst he went and collected something else from the Castle.

But on the matter of Bircherley Green I have to disagree with him.

I know Hertford Town Centre is a Conservation Area and that the majority of the buildings within its borders are Grade II listed as they of significant historical or architectural interest. I have the Department of Heritage bible to refer to but my 1990 version does not include Bircherley Green even though it was built in 1981.

Waitrose from the river
Waitrose from the river

Bircherley Green Shopping Centre is not something I would wish to preserve or enhance. It has no historical or architectural interest at all. The rear of Waitrose is far from being a welcoming feature to anyone coming into Hertford by boat, or walking through Folly Island. Any premises built today would be river facing.

There is no one to take Waitrose space. It has been offered to every other supermarket chain (and other retailers) and they have all turned it down for one overriding reason in that it does not have parking on the flat. Without a main A* tenant Bircherley Green will dissolve into a black hole.

The only chance Hertford has of attracting High Street names is to offer space that is suited to their modern day requirements. People used to ask me why can’t we have a River Island or a Next or so on etc etc. The reason is that you can’t go knocking listed buildings about just to make space to accommodate a name.

Having a vibrant centre with all the famous names in one place might make Hertford a place to visit again and once shopping is done enjoy the bars, restaurants and pubs and perhaps stay overnight in one of the many hotels. Leaving Bircherley Green as it is will ensure that many shopkeepers comment that ‘there is nothing in Hertford to come for’ moves even closer to the truth and what was a ‘challenging’ environment will be one that will enter its final death throes.

A more detailed version of the above will form part of my own letter to Planning Department to support the application along with a host of other observations made during my years as Town Centre Manager.

Bircherley Green planning application

Finally after many months of bated breath a planning application has been made for the redevelopment of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre. Both are long overdue.

If you cannot wait any longer this is the link to the the appropriate page: and enter 3/17/0392/FUL into the search box. There are pages and pages supporting the application but the Planning Statement, Public Realm Statement and Heritage Statement are the best places to start.

My first impression is that the new design is at best utilitarian (something that is useful or functional) rather than ‘a jewel in the crown’ as some have recently tried to market it. It will make no difference what I think as the plans have been well battered having been tossed between Wrenbridge and East Herts Council for some time so I expect that it is something upon which they are all agreed and can be approved.

The Planning Statement says: 163. The starkly visible, hard and uninviting ‘back of house’ landscape along the north is replaced with a new, high quality, pedestrianised public realm, active frontages and a distinctive ‘feature’ pavilion. Rather than turning its back on the river frontage, as the existing centre, the proposed development marks the new key nodal point and celebrates the new riverfront square. This aspect of the proposed development constitutes a considerable enhancement and it is exactly the kind of exciting, vibrant redevelopment referred to as desirable in the draft Hertford Conservation Area Appraisal.

This is quite true. This is the ‘back of house’ now.

Waitrose from the river
Waitrose from the river








This is how it was presented to residents in 2016.

Waitrose from river as proposed 2016
Waitrose from river as proposed 2016







As presented in the Planning Statement 2017

Waitrose from river 2017
Waitrose from river 2017





The Statement goes on to say: 162. The proposed development is a non-traditional form of development which does not attempt to mould modern building types into traditional forms. Instead the development takes the form of modern buildings. However, the rhythm picks up on the traditional street grain and the use of compatible materials subtly references to the traditional materials in Hertford, combined with modern materials—something which can be seen in many modern buildings in the conservation area.

However recent developments along the river have maintained a uniform style, although modern they pick up on the traditional features of sloping roofs found in historic buildings such as the Seed Warehouse, the new Hertford Library and Lombard House (the Hertford Club – out of shot below).

dophin yard
Dophin yard







A feature that the old Waitrose building carried forward. It may be ugly but it did at least try to blend in with the existing riverfront scene.

Any comments on these plans may be made on-line using the link above or in writing no later than 30 March 2017.

So at last things have started to move in Hertford. Things that have been mentioned in previous posts (see right) are mentioned again here with no comment from me whatsoever.

Following the publication and acceptance of the Vision and Design Strategy as developed in consultation with Tibbalds and others one or two of their proposals were taken up by the three Councils. On 7 September 2016 the Hertfordshire Mercury reported that:

Improvements in Hertford town centre to the tune of £1million look set to be on the way after councillors agreed to fund half the project.

East Herts District Council’s executive committee agreed to put £500,000 towards key improvements
to The Wash, Maidenhead Street and Bull Plain. Hertford Town Council is looking to contribute £300,000 to the project, while Hertfordshire County Council has also given its backing.

Resurfacing roads and improving pedestrian access are among the key proposals, which the authorities believe will better public space and traffic flow.

The district and town council will now seek further funding for the project.

Then on 1 February 2017 they also reported that:
A £225,000 government grant will help build new health centres and regenerate town centres,
according to County Hall.

The money will be given to Hertfordshire County Council by central government under the One Public Estate model.

The council did not reveal which projects would benefit from the funding.

In the Planning Statement it mentions that negotiations are still on-going with the North and East Herts Trust for a NHS walk-in or GP surgery to be sited in the new development. If talks are successful then space could be made available in the office space now vacant within Centurion House.

On Friday 24 September some residents of Folly Island (most probably those most affected) received notice from East Herts Council under the Town and Country Planning Act of the application for the development of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre.

On Saturday 25 September my good wife and I took a stroll through our home town and from Folly Bridge, through Bull Plain, Maidenhead Street, Mill Bridge and to Old Cross the pavements and roads were covered in lines and squiggles of every colour in the style of a modern Jackson Pollock.

At first these seemed quite confounding but we decided that these were markings by Highways for the improvements to the public realm as mentioned above. So, there is a fairy godmother after all!

Hidden Hertford – an audio visual guide

html video by v3.9.1

This is the first three chapters of the official Hidden Hertford audio/visual tour. It is a unique opportunity to enjoy a virtual walk around the county town with a professional commentary on the history, heritage and points of nterest.

The mp4 video file was originally intended for us on iPods and can be viewed now on a variety of devices including a PC running Windows 10.

As this was photographed in 2008 some of the shops that are mentioned have changed ownership or trade. The Library has moved from Old Cross to Dolphin Yard, although the building remains and is used by a design agency. Some landmarks like Sovereign House have recently been demolished. The tour takes about one and a half hours on foot but as the introduction states, there are plenty of opportunities to stop for refreshment

Download the full tour here – £2.99 from Paypal. The file is 164mb and runs for approx 22mins. After purchase Paypal will re-direct you to a new page from where you can download the file.

The MP3 audio version is available for download for £0.99 through Paypal. The file is 19mb. After purchase Paypal will re-direct you to a new page from where you can download the file.

Hidden Hertford logoIn 2007 Visit Britain contacted my colleague Carole Skidmore who was at that time working at East Herts Council and asked if Hertford would like to be part of the Hidden Britain project.

We raised over £32,000 from Visit Britain, Action for Market Towns, The National Lottery Awards for All and Hertford Town Council. Our local MP Mark Prisk also wrote a letter of support to assist in the grant process.

By early 2008 Hidden Hertford was ready to go. The funds were used for several projects including river trips, community festivals, educational days on the Farmers Market, equipment for Hertford Museum and the software, hardware and professional expertise to place a guided tour on to a digital platform.

This is only available as an mp4. I am only offering one format but there is software available if you need to convert the file. Once payment has been made you will be redirected to a new page from where you can download either file.

If you would like a French, German or Polish version please contact me as below.

Here is a quick photo montage of Hertford; much, much more appears in the video with historical background and the odd interesting story to accompany it. Clicking on one image will begin the slideshow.

This is a quick photo montage of Hertford; much, much more appears in the video with historical background and the odd interesting story to accompany it. Clicking on one image will begin the slideshow.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1524517834ebrab1524517834nhoj@1524517834tcatn1524517834oc1524517834



The Old Barge Public House

This being World Cup time we recorded an episode of Morse. A little way through ‘The Infernal Serpent’ from 1990 Mrs B and me both said: ‘I recognise that pub’. It was of course the interior of the Old Barge public house on Folly Island where we live.

We often have this kind of moment, usually when watching Morse, or Lewis, or Midsomer Murders or Rosemary and Thyme and often remark how good that pub looks and wonder where it is, because the name always seems to have been changed to fit the plot.

These are photos of the Barge from the 1990 episode of Morse to the present day and the distant past. Just click on one photo and it will expand and start slideshow.

Read more about Folly Island here.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1524517834ebrab1524517834nhoj@1524517834tcatn1524517834oc1524517834

Hertford – a short guide

Hertfprd Castle Gatehouse
Hertford Castle Gatehouse

Hertford is the county town of Hertfordshire; about twenty miles north of London up the A10 from Tottenham, or take the A1/M1 turn off at Hatfield for the A414.

It has two railway stations, Hertford North and Hertford East with regular services into London Kings Cross and London Liverpool Street respectively.

Hertford Castle

At the centre of town is Hertford Castle; it was known to the Vikings and on the site of the original earthworks a castle was built around 912 AD.

From then onwards it was always a favourite of royalty. It was briefly lost to the French in 1216 but Henry V conferred it to his wife. Henry V111 was apparently none too taken with it but lived here for a time with Katherine of Aragon.

His daughter Elizabeth 1 loved the place and moved Parliament here during the Great Plague of London. Castle Street leads you out of the grounds and into Parliament Square.

Very little remains of the castle now apart from the Gatehouse and the castle grounds which can be enjoyed by visitors. The rooms of the Castle are now occupied by the Town Council although on open days throughout the year the Robing rooms are opened to the public, as part of a guided tour.

Just outside the entrance to the castle buildings is a weatherbeaten stone which commemorates the first General Synod of the British churches in 673AD. It was at this meeting that the rules for determining Easter were set.

If you have ever wondered why Easter always falls on a different date this is the reason: Easter was to be held on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21.

Leisure spots in Hertford

Hertford town centre is well populated with bars, pubs, restaurants, bistros and eateries. So whatever your particular favourite in eating and drinking you’ll find it here.

Many of Hertford’s pubs are old coaching inns. The Salisbury Arms Hotel has been on the site in Fore Street for five centuries although the Dimsdale Arms,a few doors away, is now the Pizza Express and was once the site of the Monday market that used to stretch from its back doors over to the other side of what is now the main road through Hertford, Gascoyne Way.

Hertford is a brewery town. McMullens are one of the last large scale independent brewers left in the country. They have brewed on the site at Old Cross since 1890. The smell of hops often drifts over the town.

The River Lea

Hertford’s prosperity was due to its pre-eminence in the brewing industry and supplied barley and malt to London’s major brewers from the early sixteenth century.

The River Lea runs through the town and with the building of the canals became the main trade route to the capital. The Lea splits into two in Hertford and the wider, faster running water that flows past Folly Island at the Barge pub, is actually the Lea Navigation following the Navigation Acts of 1832.

The original Lea runs on the northern side, thus forming Folly island and is little more than a stream in some places until it reconnects with the Navigation past Hertford lock.

Folly Island is a Local Conservation Area. There is only one road for motor access and parking is almost impossible, even for residents. It can be accessed on foot more easily and a good stopping point is the Old Barge, built in the 1880’s with the cottage style workmen’s houses on the island itself.

You can walk along the Lea riverbank up to Hertford basin where the houseboats are moored and across the footbridge to Hertford East station.

Most people just stop for a light meal and a pint at the Barge and watch the houseboats and small craft come up the river and turn round a few more yards upriver where you can just discern the old mill buildings that once were more prevalent in town.

Hertford as well as being the county town also has a market. This happens on Saturdays and supplemented by a Farmers Market on the second Saturday of the month.

Hertford is a commuter town with most residents working in London but on weekends Hertford is a bustling, busy, thriving place to be and there are plenty of pubs where you can take the weight off your feet and enjoy a pint of local ale.

Hidden Hertford

In 2004 Hertford became the centre of media attention with the publication of an article in the Hertfordshire Mercury claiming that underneath the streets of the county town were a labyrinth of secret tunnels still used by descendants of the Knights Templar.

Hidden Hertford logo
Hidden Hertford logo

I have now made the official Hidden Hertford Audio Visual Tour available again for download. You can view the full 20 minute video as an mp4 file for just £2.99 (or listen just to the audio version for £0.99). Many of the places mentioned above are featured but some shops and landmarks have now closed or disappeared such as Sovereign House.


You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1524517834ebrab1524517834nhoj@1524517834tcatn1524517834oc1524517834

Folly Island, Hertford

The view from Folly Bridge -Folly Island on Folly on the Folly Day August 8th 2010
The view from Folly Bridge – Folly on the Folly Day August 8th 2010

Modern day Folly Island

Folly Island is situated in the centre of Hertford where the River Lee (or Lea) splits into two. Hertford is the county town of Hertfordshire. It has a bus station, two train stations and easy access to most major road networks to London and airports.

There are 122 houses on Folly Island. They are two or three bedroom, mid-terrace cottage style homes built in the last years of the nineteenth century by the Andrews and Thornton families.

There is also a pub – The Old Barge, a freehouse which can be found in Camra’s Good Beer Guide 2018 and serves a wide range of real ales, ciders, export lagers and food until late seven days a week.

Folly Island is a true island between the two streams of the River Lea and there is only one access for vehicles over Folly Bridge. The absence of through traffic, the closeness of the town centre and the open spaces of Hartham Common nearby adds to the attraction of the Island as a place to live.

Folly Island is designated a Local Conservation Area and cherry trees planted along Thornton Street recreate an original feature from the end of the last century.

Trees in bloom in Thornton Street

This photo (above 17 March 2017 ) shows how attractive parts of Folly Island look in early spring when the first blossoms burst into life.

History of Folly Island

The history of Folly Island begins in the days of William the Conqueror when a mill was built on the site of a priory close to modern day Priory Street. In 1636 the mill was relocated down stream to where the Dicker Mill Industrial Estate is today as other mills closer to the centre of town took more water for their own workings.

A 1700 map of Hertford shows Folly island as an open space between the two branches of the River Lea and split into three separate parcels of land; Old Hall Mead (Old Hall Street is named after this), Little Hartham and Priory Orchard, now cultivated as allotments.

The earliest recorded use of the ‘the Folly’ (the street called The Folly runs from Folly Bridge to the crossroads with Thornton Street) was in 1732 when Little Hartham was conveyed by Thomas Ashby to John Nicholson. It was referred to as ‘Ashby’s Folly’; that small piece of land was later to be the site for a militia hospital and a dumping ground for the waste from Hertford goal.

The transfer of the lease to Nicholson signalled a dramatic increase in the development of commercial interests on the adjoining stretch of the island. Late nineteenth century maps show an abundance of maltings, timber mills and warehousing operations.

The River Lea was the dominant inland route for the transport of malt and barley, tapping into some of the richest barley country in Hertfordshire, most especially around Ware, Hoddesdon and Stanstead Abbotts. Hertford’s great rival Ware prospered to become the centre of England’s malting industry.

Centre of the malting industry

The Navigation Act of 1738 was of such importance to the prosperity of Hertford that the corporation paid ten shillings for the bells to be rung. It enabled the then mill stream to be widened and navigation improved to allow barges right into the centre of Hertford and alongside the mills rather than along the course of the old river.

Although it was essential for the malt to be transported down to London the River Lea also opened up opportunities for barge owners to return from London with coal, dung to fertilise the market gardens along what is now the A10 corridor; and animal feed for the continuing reliance on horse drawn transport.

Eastwards from Folly BridgeFor many years the only access to Folly island was over a footbridge at Bull Plain. Mill owners successfully applied for the widening of the bridge to allow carts but the high sides still made getting goods off the island easier by barge than by road.

The narrowness of the bridge was as much the reason for the decline in the Folly as a trading centre as the coming of the railways. Movement by barge was still far cheaper but the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 had reduced the price of corn and encouraged large landowners to sell off land to commuters that sought the green fields of Hertfordshire.


Now Folly Island is a modern residential area. Residents and visitors still stand on Folly Bridge to capture the iconic view. Such as this taken one late misty, cold autumn evening.


© John Barber. First published in Hertfordshire Countryside, August 2000.

Contact John Barber here: moc.r1524517834ebrab1524517834nhoj@1524517834tcatn1524517834oc1524517834

John Barber, Author

While you’re here why not take at look at ‘Coasters by John Barber’ – sets of drinking coasters featuring original designs unique to this site.

A little bit about John Barber.

This feature published by the Hertfordshire Mercury on December 7 2007 gives you a brief flavour of the man behind the site but for a more detailed background, read my biography.

Getting to know you

Name John Barber
Age Just collected my bus pass
Where are you from Folly Island, Hertford
Job Hertford Town Centre Manager
Hobbies Writing.


Goodbye Mr Chips
Terminator One

Three men in a boat by Jerome K Jerome
Life and Times of Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne

TV Programme

Bat out of Hell

Any curry, stronger the better

Claim to fame

Bob Monhouse
Postcard from Bib Monkhouse

Bob Monkhouse rang me from his holiday home in Barbados to offer me his memories of Leslie Welch, the Memory Man who was a famous variety act in the 1950/60’s. He talked for about half an hour and I always thought that a wonderful and kind gesture from such a celebrated stand-up comedian and TV host to a little known writer (and who remains so to this day!).

What famous person would you like to be stuck on a desert island with
Becky Mantin
Backy Mantin, the ITV weather girl. This kind of interview was a regular feature in the Mercury who asked various politicians and traders their likes and views. When asked who they would like to be stuck on a desert island with most replied with: William Shakespeare, the Pope, George Bernard Shaw, Henry the Eighth and various reality TV stars such as Bear Grylls. I took the view that if I had to be marooned on a desert island then I would prefer my companion to be an attractive female. At the time of this interview I always knew that it was going to rain because Becky would do the whole of the weather forecast with a smile. So much better than discussing the end of the world with Wittgenstein.

Views on Hertford
What does it need
A cinema
What would you change I like it as it is
Favourite pub/restaurant Old Barge, White Horse, Salisbury Arms
Favourite place The Old Barge pub on Folly Island
Where do you like to shop Waitrose
Best thing about Hertford The traders and the people.

When Zach my grandson passed away in 2015 there was little left in Hertford for me. I originally placed the following on his own page but they belong here.

I had hoped that the Hertford Town Centre Urban Design Strategy would breathe some life into the town. All it produced was another list of everything that has been discussed, argued over and beaten into pulp by every possible combination of town centre committees and seminars. If I have copies of all these then someone else must have too at Council level and saved us all £100,000 to hire a team of consultants to regurgitate it.

As we near the end of 2015 the position regarding Waitrose in town is as unclear as when negotiations started in 2013.

The ex-Mayor Colin Harris once told me that I had been punching above my weight for far too long. Trying to form an opposition to the established pattern of things in this town has become more like punching my fist into thin air.

However I can look back over the past fifteen years and know that some good things were achieved; not always by myself but with the help of so many good friends and colleagues. In some chronological order:

Chairman of the Folly Island Residents Association
5 Fun Days
1 Hertford Music Festival
1 Continental Market
Hertford Town Watch
Hertford Pubwatch incl Behave or be Banned
Farmers Market
New Christmas Lights and much needed infrastructure
Christmas Fayres
Taxi Marshals
Hidden Hertford
Training Courses
New businesses in town
Business database
Editor of Ward Times

I have missed a few but it is exhausting just listing that lot and remembering the time and effort spent by all those who were also responsible.

Thank you for those 15 years.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1524517834ebrab1524517834nhoj@1524517834tcatn1524517834oc1524517834