Strangely enough Folly Island is not a natural island. I always thought so until I was doing a bit of research using Rosemary Bennett’s excellent ‘Folly Island’ and discovered that until 1772 the island was connected to the mainland at Dicker Mill. A strip of land was dug out to make it easier for barges to navigate to the town centre.
In these difficult days living on a island should make it easier to self-isolate. Not so, obviously. See Google map below with arrows pointing to the bridges connecting us to various parts of the town.
The devil in me says we should demolish these bridges like a medieval Lord of the Manor pulls up the drawbridge and fills the moat with hungry fish. That would truly isolate us all.
Many many recall my failed attempt to stand for Hertford Town Council at the last local elections. If you were to read my manifesto it does offer a plan towards isolation and protection.
I am once again confirming to those who know me that I still lapse into flippancy and am often irreverent. I am guilty as charged.
Many people are doing their bit to help all those unfortunate to have to self-isolate for long periods of time. Smashwords, distributors of self-published eBooks are running a promotion from 20 March until 20 April called ‘Authors Give Back’.
Authors including myself are offering their books at heavily discounted prices to help readers indoors cope with the unfolding Coronavirus pandemic.
I have several titles concerned with local issues being offered at more than half price or even free:
The Mysterious Death of Sarah Stout – the true account of the daughter of a Quaker brewer found drowned in the River Lea in 1699 by what is now Priory Street; and Spencer Cowper, the man accused of her murder.
The Wicked Lady – Katherine Ferrers, was she really the highwaywoman of legend, or been harshly treated by history.
But what is to be fate of that great wen of all? The monster called … ?
William Cobbett (1762 – 1835) Rural Rides, 1822.
You may ask what William Cobbett has to do with modern day Hertford. In Cobbett’s time the Great Wen, the monster, was London. Today the great wen (or sore) in the middle of town is Bircherley Green – no more deserved of being called a shopping centre.
Finally Chase New Homes has submitted a planning application for Bircherley Green and the plans have now been published for comment by East Herts Council.
I cannot find much to commend this application and I will post my full letter of objection at a later date here.
This is the riverside view which appears to have been stretched:
My initial reaction is that these apartment blocks A & B, being retail premises with four storeys of apartments above will tower over everything else in the vicinity.
Chase believe that it will not completely overpower the existing skyline. I have news for them. It will hang over Folly Island and cast its shadow deep. At night the lights from all the apartments together will detract from the night sky, the stars and the transition of the moon.
This is not what we should expect of a county town where private developments are allowed to overpower the town’s heritage.
Hertford Town Centre can be defined to the north, south, east and west by the River Lea, Gascoyne Way, South Street and North Road respectively. With very exceptions all buildings within this boundary which is the Hertford Town Conservation Area, are mentioned in the Department of National Heritage Revised List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest (1996).
The overwhelming majority are Grade II but Hertford Castle, The Friends Meeting House and Shire Hall are all Grade I. With help from the Home Office, the County Council restored the building during 1988-90, and the project was Commended by The Civic Trust in 1992.
‘A threat of wholesale re-development blighted the core of Hertford for more than twenty years. Once that threat was removed in the late 1970’s the town blossomed, and the new buildings which have appeared generally rest easily,in scale and detail, with their mature neighbours.’
Russell Moye, Project Architect, Shire Hall. Writing in ‘The Restoration of Shire Hall Hertford, 1990’.
No more do they rest easy; now we have the great wen, William Cobbett’s monster.
In line with previous planning applications this one fails to address the problem of parking. There will be 100 apartments (38 one bedroom and 62 two bedroom) and the hotel will have 68 rooms. Bircherley Green car park has only 188 spaces, of which 40 spaces will be dedicated to residents, 5 car club and 143 Pay and Display.
The new apartments will bring to the centre of town an extra 100 – 150 new residents along with occasional visitors who will need to park their cars; the hotel will need parking even for overnight guests, the patients attending the proposed surgery will also need to park along with all those tourists, visitors, shoppers and leisure seekers who will be coming to this destination (Chase’s word not mine). How can a lego brick be a destination? Then factor in the increase in internet deliveries. It is folly to think that all this traffic will fit in to the town centre. The maths do not add up.
The application does not state how many of the apartments will be affordable; but does explain why the emphasis is on younger, mobile, socially active couples and not much in the way of facilities for the disabled.
Permission is being sought for a NHS super surgery and another large retailer (no names, no pack drill) before they can go ahead to let premises. Retail premises could be large, small or any size anyone wants by adjusting the available space.
There is a new bus station waiting room but not much on a new ‘as it happens’ information board, small catering facility or toilets; although there appears to be three doors on the site plan where the existing ones are now.
With more residents crammed into the centre of this medieval town with few parking spaces, an increase in bars and restaurants and a hotel as well, there is little in the application to explain how other issues like late night noise from traffic and revellers will be addressed. No mention of CCTV or licensing terms.
Enough for now.
I will post my objection in full on this site but in the meantime read the application and all supporting documents and see what you think.
Like most residents I was dismayed to learn that three more shops will be closing; Monsoon/Accessorize, Sugar Smith and Botsfords.
Botsfords is almost synonymous with Hertford. It is sad to see such a famous name disappear from our town.
I have written countless reports which have no doubt ended up in the same place as that written by the Retail Group (see previous post). I used to point to Hertford as being almost unique these days as having a haberdashery (Margaret Hart), a diving school (In Depth) and an ironmongers (Botsfords).
‘What made Hertford famous made a loser out of me’ – apologies to Schlitz beer, Milwaukee, Rod Stewart and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Quite ironically Mrs B saw a plea on Facebook from a person looking for information on Addis. My curiosity fanned I took a look through ‘Mercury Remembers’. This was a 120 page supplement issued by the Hertfordshire Mercury in 2001 and looking back over the town’s history.
I saw the headline: ‘Shutting up shop after 200 years’. It was a feature on Gravesons which was closed in 2001. Now in 2020 the current tenants Monsoon/Accessorize are also closing down in town.
Inside I had stored a yellowing copy of ‘Hertford Past & Present’; a Midweek Mercury Supplement from July 1983. From this and the above here are three photos showing Gravesons through the century. I cannot give any more credit to the photographers other than they all appeared in those two publications.
An exterior view of Gravesons as it was in 1928
The interior of the shop as it was in 1905 with chairs supplied for customers
Gravesons as it appeared in 1920
The end of an era approaches and we all await with bated breath the future development of Bircherley Green.
“They may ring their bells now, before long they will be wringing their hands.”
When the bells were rung in London on the declaration of war against Spain in the 1739 ‘War of Jenkin’s Ear’ , Robert Walpole uttered his most memorable quote as all students of English history will know.
Sir Robert Walpole (26 August 1676 – 18 March 1745), is generally regarded as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. The current Prime Minister would probably like the bells of Big Ben to chime on Friday, 31st January on the UK’s exit from Europe but this will not happen now.
Hertford will not be ringing any bells on the publication of the most recent Hertford Town Centre Retail Health Check commissioned by East Herts Council and presented by the Retail Group.
They describe themselves thus: The Retail Group is a specialist retail management consultancy that provides informed solutions about consumers’ future needs for a wide range of retail and property clients. The philosophy of our business is “to improve our clients’ business through our understanding of shoppers, their shopping habits, businesses and the skills of retailing”.
One thing in its favour is that the overwhelming majority of Hertford’s town centre traders responded to the consultation and their response is well documented into readable statistics. Some analysis of these results are below:
This question (satisfaction levels) clearly identifies that all is not well in Hertford Town Centre. Whilst the majority of businesses are satisfied with the performance of their shops /outlets, they are also unsatisfied with the performance of the town centre. Nearly half are very dissatisfied. This is a significant finding and one of the lowest satisfaction responses we have ever received for a market town of a similar size to Hertford.
Town Centre Priority Improvement Areas. Many of the other improvements sought relate to a better consumer experience (safe, cleaner, ease of use etc) or an improved environment (public realm, less traffic congestion). A final consistent theme wanted by respondents was more events that generate footfall (e.g. markets, promotion, online information, better signage etc). Improved food & beverage (f&b) offer is not a requirement.
Views and Opinions. In regards general views and opinions abut the town centre, this question captured quite negative responses. Respondents didn’t feel the markets offer was
good, nor agreed that the town centre was improving each year, nor had many reasons to visit it or was an appealing destination. The good news is that a few businesses would recommend it and most felt it was clean and pleasant. Whilst the tone of the response is clearly negative it does identify aspects for the town to improve.
Despite the report’s findings, there was little discussion when it was presented to the District Council’s Executive Committee on Thursday January 21st. Councillors simply voted to note the contents of the report and recommend that the Council works with other “stakeholders” to agree “the appropriate mechanism to support the improvement of economic and retail performance and environmental considerations within Hertford Town Centre”.
A New Year and a time to reflect and look forward.
This is list of things the people of Hertford have wished for based on my role as Town Centre Manager from 2001 – 2010.
It is far from complete.
Nearly all of the following were the subject of a response to a survey I undertook during 2008 to 2009.
The survey was commissioned by East Herts Council and funded through the LABGI scheme – or Local Authority Business Growth Initiative.
This was a fund from national Government based on criteria which few understood and was an unknown sum which suddenly appeared in the Council’s accounts. That was how it was explained to me and I looked no further.
Other East Herts market towns were given a similar sum and a guidance as to how it was to be spent. This was a national event and councils up and down the country were able to use this windfall for all sorts of local initiatives.
My brief was to submit five proposals which were relatively inexpensive but provided the greatest environmental benefit. Initially I consulted everybody from local traders to cyclist organisations, residents to County Councillors, street traders to national organisations with a base in Hertford.
I will start with the first round of talks. Many of the following were mentioned by more than one person or organisation; but all I think, are self-explanatory. Some have been implemented, some not. I take no credit for either. It was not my remit to carry the recommendations any further. In no particular order:
clothes shops for ladies of a certain age
improved signage around town centre and perimeter
information and interpretation boards for visitors
updated tourist maps and guides
control use of A boards for visually impaired people
bye-laws to control charity campaigners or ‘chuggers’
regular ‘cleaner, greener, tidier Hertford’ campaign using community service
more litter bins and recycling pods in town centre
collecting and recycling cardboard waste from traders
bike sharing scheme
more public benches
more opportunities for public art and craft markets
small scale open air concerts in Parliament and Salisbury Squares
community toilet scheme with baby changing facilities
improved facilities for river traffic
finalise plans for the regeneration of Bircherley Green
open and improved toilets and waiting room for bus station
widen commercial and industrial town database for all businesses
Town Centre Traders organisation
These were reduced to a final five which were:
More and improved signage
More information boards
A full and accessible town centre database
More strategically placed salt bins
More benches in public spaces
I would like to revisit this page in 2021 but I doubt if it will be any different. That makes me quite sad!
This year I am sending a few Christmas cards to old friends. It is a special card designed at school by my six year old grandson Archie.
For everyone else in Hertford I would like to pass on this message – unashamedly copied from A Christmas Carol – says it all!
Scrooge was better than his word ……. he became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.
It was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
Our misery has been lifted. There is to be a General Election.
It will be slightly different in Hertford this time as Mark Prisk, our MP for Hertford and Stortford is standing down having served the constituency since 2001.
This is his letter confirming his decision.
You have to speak as you find and to be honest Mark was a great help to me when I was Town Centre Manager.
He attended a breakfast meeting to talk to and answer questions from the town traders.
It was a decision of genius to hold Town Watch meetings at breakfast times. Business people can always find excuses not to be able to attend meetings at coffee time, lunch or after working hours. But offer a free breakfast then they will be there at 8.00am especially if you throw in a guest speaker who has some gravitas.
So thank you Lloyds Bank for sponsoring those breakfasts, Waitrose for the food, Michelle for opening the Waterside Bar and Restaurant and Theresa for turning up early and cooking the food. You could have anything from a glass of orange juice to a full English breakfast with toast, coffee and all the trimmings.
I would recommend this to any trade organisation hoping to get business people together to meet, chat and generally network (horrible word, but that’s what it is). The key to its success was that local politicians were not invited. And it was free; and in the early morning so they could slip off to their own workplace without any fuss.
When Government cuts hit the rivers and waterways the Lee and Stort Inland Waterways Association as it is now, organised a blockade of the River Lee at Hertford. It was supported and addressed by Mark Prisk who joined our own craft to cruise along the Hertford stretch and spoke to all of the residents whose properties bordered the river.
In 2007 with a colleague from East Herts I launched Hidden Hertford. Mark wrote letters to various organisations such as the Lottery Fund and Action For Market towns. His support was invaluable in raising the £32,000 which went to fund all kinds of heritage and community projects.
The Hertford and Stortford constituency is considered to be one of safest seats for the Conservatives. if you are selected as candidate by the local party you are bound to win at the general election and sent to Westminster. It is quite surprising that anyone in Hertford actually bothers to vote at all.
However all is not sweetness and light here. Julie Marson has been selected to stand for the constituency as Conservative candidate. As far as I can ascertain she is not a local woman and has previously lost when standing in various parliamentary seats in south England.
Her selection and the way it happened caused a few ripples amongst the members. It is a bit of a political handbag fight in itself so here is the background.
Update 8 December 2019
Hold the Front Page
Yesterday received a letter in the post from no other than Julie Marson, Conservative candidate for the Hertford and Stortford constituency asking for my vote at next week’s General Election.
Obviously the local Conservatives have not been reading these web pages!
However I note that the address at the top right was Bishops Stortford and I read further that Julie lives in Sawbridgeworth so I apologise if I have slighted her.
Despite the personal approach and a letter personally signed ‘Julie’ I will not be casting my vote in her direction.
Who gets my ‘X’? Unfortunately the Official Monster Raving Looney Party are not fielding a candidate here. So I might abstain or vote for whomever takes my fancy on the day as most of the mainstream parties are already totally raving.
Just when you thought that things could not get much worse with Bircherley Green this has happened.
All entrances, exits, door, windows and even gates have been boarded up. What a lovely sight for visitors to be greeted with when coming to the county town.
East Herts Council consistently refused a plethora of applications and amendments from Wrenbridge on the grounds that Bircherley Green was part of the Hertford Local Conservation Area.
But allowing the waiting room to be closed during the winter months, closing the toilets and now letting the place resemble the set of a Hollywood Western makes those claims a bit hollow.
Walking around town this last couple of days I notice that the Christmas lights are in place. I know that they are not switched on yet but Christmas does seem to get earlier every year.
First let me categorically state that I am not against Christmas lights to brighten up the town and improve the shopping experience.
In 2004 East Herts Council made a one-off grant to the market towns for Christmas lights and responsibility for purchase and installation was transferred with it. The Hertford Town Centre Management Board as it was then, did not have access to extra funding and control was transferred to Hertford Town Council who employed myself to manage the project.
The work involved many different agencies but the result was worth the effort.
The project was not without its problems.
We had originally planned for blue LED lights to be hung in a triangle from the lamp posts at Old Cross. I am told that these looked absolutely fabulous in the early morning mist. Unfortunately a retired engineer driving through town informed the council that these lamp columns were not load bearing and the lights had to come down.
I don’t know who he was but down the lights had to come. We found several places to install these; one was outside the White Hart pub in Salisbury Square. Ironically those very same lamp columns now hold hanging baskets and a small xmas lighting motif.
Since those early days Hertford town Council with the aid of business donations has increased and improved the town centre display.
I am not wishing to play Scrooge at this time. The lights themselves are expensive as is the contractor’s cost of installing and removing them along with Highways regulations regarding such things as stress tests.
Over the years I have come to question the benefit of town centre Christmas lights. By default they come on when most shops are closing and the night time economy needs no extra boost to attract late night revellers.
I have suggested in the past that funds should be spent on a celebrity to turn on the lights. Stevenage often hire a failed finalist from the X-Factor and other towns also seem to find a none too reclusive D-List celebrity to help Father Christmas and the Mayor hit the plunger. A famous face appearing in Hertford might help draw in the crowds when Christmas begins.
After all my efforts in the past I would be the first to bemoan the loss of the lights. I have written to Cllr Sartin to congratulate the team on the town display but if as I am led to believe footfall is dropping then perhaps now is the time to think of an alternative.