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.
Sometimes I think I am living in a different universe from everyone else. Apart from a message on Hertford.net no one else seems to be the slightest concerned that the planning application for Bircherley Green Shopping Centre has been withdrawn.
So now we await an approach from Chase Homes regarding their proposals for the site which may or may not include a hotel, NHS surgery, prime retail space or hot food take-away premises.
It might appear that East Herts Council have missed an opportunity to invest in the town. All I have heard since moving to Hertford in 1980 and all through my years as Town Centre Manager is the same refrain: ‘Hertford is the county town’ followed by a list of things that should have been done, or hasn’t been done, or has been done, that has added nothing to Hertford.
Towns and cities had to bid for the £95m funding, which was first announced in May.
“Our nation’s heritage is one of our great calling cards to the world, attracting millions of visitors to beautiful historic buildings that sit at the heart of our communities,” said Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan.
“It is right that we ensure these buildings are preserved for future generations but it is important that we make them work for the modern world.”
Maybe an application was doomed to fail but you have to try.
Hertford is the county town. Nearly all of the buildings in the town centre, which is considered a Local Conservation Area in its own right, feature in the Government’s list of buildings considered to be of architecturally or historic interest.
“Under the scheme, districts of our size were limited to one bid so we had to select the town with the best chance of success.
“In submitting the bid, we knew that by most measures within the scheme (e.g. vacancy levels) none of East Herts’ towns are in the ‘failing’ category.
“The principle vehicle for improving Hertford town centre is the Bircherley Green redevelopment which is not owned by the council so the basis of a bid would not have met the HSF criteria.”
No council at any level gave any support to the Hidden Hertford project which sought to attract visitors to the county town. Well, not until I had already raised over £32,000 towards the project. The aims and results of the Hidden Hertford project can be viewed here.
In 2010 East Herts Council paid me to produce a report to provide a series of environmentally sound projects at minimal cost with maximum benefit to the community.
After a lengthy consultation with a wide range of businesses, traders and organisations which had an interest in the town I suggested the following, amongst others, based upon the success of what had already been achieved with Hidden Hertford (see above):
Tenants of listed buildings should be responsible for their maintenance New town centre signage and visitor maps More benches throughout the town More salt bins in vulnerable places Using litter bins to take recycling products in place of anonymous bollards Bikes for hire at bus and rail station Community toilet scheme
The motive behind all the above was to attract more visitors to Hertford and to make their stay as enjoyable as possible whilst improving the local economy.
Not surprisingly none of the above were introduced.
“I used to have a standing joke and say if I’d been really bad and went to purgatory when I died, I’d find myself trapped in Peterborough railway station on a cold winter’s night, with the cold wind blowing across the Fens.”
I know what she means. A long time ago in about 1968 when the world and I were very young many of my friends and myself used to travel from our various university homes and meet up in Nottingham, as the most populated campus of our particular social circle. One particular Saturday night myself and friend Dan missed the last train back to London.
A station porter (such an old fashioned term) mentioned that we could meet the milk train (another anachronism) to St Pancras if we caught the cross country slow train to Sleaford – which we did.
Sleaford station waiting room was a vision of terminal decay. The walls were a deep tobacco stained yellow/brown to match the lino on the floor. This was cracked and in several places worn away to reveal the wooden floorboards below. There was one 40 watt light bulb to illuminate the tattered and faded posters offering a trip to ‘Bracing Blackpool’ or enjoy ‘Sunshine in Skegness’.
On the back wall there was a fireplace comforting a blackened grate where the fire had died out some time in the faraway past. On two sides there were wooden benches that might have seen better days as church pews on which a few fellow travellers had encamped to await the train out of purgatory so well defined by Ms Doughty.
I had always thought of this as my own purgatory. I have revised my future.
I will be held captive in Bircherley Green. Last week I was waiting for the late running 724. The whole frontage was covered with cigarette butts, discarded copies of Metro, overflowing waste bins and lost pieces of paper fluttering through the air like recently hatched butterflies.
I don’t need to explain any further about the state of Bircherley Green Shopping Centre.
It is locked and barred, grass is pushing through every crack. It is so depressing. The site manager used to keep the whole area free of litter and weeds. He would be crying if he saw it now.
I will be trapped within the gates of the shopping centre like the captain of the Flying Dutchman; a ghost ship doomed to sail the oceans forever.
I don’t enjoy spending my time knocking my home town. I spent over ten years with other agencies and good people to maintain its high standard as a place to visit and live in. It is difficult to defend the town now. If this is the vision visitors have as they alight from their bus then we really have reached a low point from which I suppose we can only go up.
19.50 12.9.2019. I have just received an email from East Herts Council Planning informing me that the application to develop Bircherley Green including the hotel has been withdrawn. More comment when full details emerge.
Since it was announced that Chase Homes intended to buy Bircherley Green the newspapers, message boards and pubs have been full of hopes, plans and wish lists. Unfortunately the planning process does not work that way.
I have lived in Hertford since 1980 but was born and grew up in Camden Town. On Saturday morning I was dragged along by my mother to do the weekly shop. I hated shopping then and still do now. Ask my wife!
However back in those far off days of the early 1950’s shopping was a far different experience from what it is now.
We started at Allens Newsagents in Camden Road to pay the paper bill and to pick up my copies of Beano, Dandy, Lion and sometimes Topper. Then across the road to the butcher. From there to Camden High Street. Our first call was Talbots the Fishmongers. They had a large metal tray outside the shop in which several eels swam. Once chosen the evening meal was taken to the back of the shop and beheaded and sliced into ….. slices.
Next the Greengrocers. I think it was called ‘Greens’. Anyway my mum had an excellent relationship with one of the proprietors, Chic. They weighed everything on large scales with weights. I doubt if the measures were ever correct but once weighed the potatoes and larger items such as cauliflowers were tipped straight into my mother’s shopping bag. Fruit tended to be shoved into a large brown paper bag and then into mum’s bag.
Our final routine call was to Biroths the Bakers. Bread was always freshly baked; always a wonderful smell wafted out on to the street. They were open for a a few hours only on Good Friday to sell hot cross buns. Once gone, they shut. My mum was always an early bird then, bringing home freshly baked and still warm hot cross buns.
There were of necessity some days with other routine stops such as Pages the general store for all things household such as needles, cloth, knicker elastic etc.
These were easy going days. My mum knew all the traders by name and vice versa. Such as Montagu Saxby the leather goods man who sold cases, satchels and handbags. We all bought our sweets from Pugh’s – which for some reason my mother and all her friends and acquaintances called Puckies.
She had a Christmas club everywhere so we ate and drank well in the season to be merry.
Now they’ve all gone – the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. I’ve never met a candlestick maker but he is up there with the best of them.
As Bruce Springsteen once said: ‘these jobs are going boys and they aint coming back’.
People in Hertford are hopeful of a return to those good old days but at the risk of repeating myself: they’ve gone. Shopping and the High Street have changed forever.
You cannot demand that River Island, Next or Harrods open a store in town; or even Bircherley Green Shopping Centre. You can try but they will not come.
These big firms known all about demographics, return per square metre of selling space or in plainer terms – footfall.
However there is one aspect of shopping in those days which is so, so far ahead of today’s world. We knew all about recycling and carried it out.
Milk bottles were washed and left out for the milkman the next day, along with a note asking for just one pint to cut down on waste. Bottles from the Off Licence were returned for the small deposit. Yesterdays newspapers were given to the fish and chip shop. There was a minimum of plastic packaging as everyone used their own shopping bags and if you did get a bag from the shopkeeper it was usually a plain brown one given a bad reputation by purveyors of ‘glamour magazines’.
We weren’t wealthy and neither were the bunch of kids who I knocked around with. If we wanted a new football we knocked on doors and took all the newspapers we could cram into a an old pram and took them to the rag and bone man under Camden Road railway bridge for a few pennies. We did our bit!
So, what future for Bircherley Green? One with no butcher, baker and the other one. That’s for sure.
The two black and white photos come from a booklet called ‘The End of One Story – A Souvenir of the Borough of St Pancras’. There is a page of photo acknowledgements but they are not referenced to page numbers. The booklet was issued in 1965 when the boroughs of St Pancras, Hampstead and Holborn were merged to form the London Borough of Camden.
The best thing about going on holiday with the grandchildren is that you forget about the cares of home and become a child yourself again.
The downside is that when you come home you realise that nothing has changed and you are an adult again.
So I didn’t expect much to have happened in Hertford during my absence. How wrong could I be?
I find that Bircherley Green Shopping Centre (Phase 2 anyway) has been sold by Diageo Pension Fund to Chase New Homes Ltd. No figures given but the last time I was privy to these sort of things I understood that the going rate for the shopping centre was somewhat south of the figure Diageo paid for it. I can’t see a pension Fund taking a big loss on an asset to the detriment of its pensioners. But who am I?
Where does that leave us now? I and the rest of the town have no idea.
Chase are housing developers and concentrate their energies on apartment blocks. They do not appear to be mixed use developers such as Bircherley Green needs. Despite East Herts stating that any development in the town centre should include some form of retail use.
The closing date for the recent planning application for Bircherley Green was 8 August 2019. You can check it out on East Herts web site reference: 3/19/1308/VAR. It is unclear as to whether Chase will develop the site according to these plans or submit a totally new concept. Or if Phase 1 (Premier Inn Hotel) will still go ahead. I assume it will.
In the immortal words of football commentators using the Radio Times map we are back to Square One.
What kind of retail will want to come here. Where are the residents going to park. What will happen to the bus station, not to mention the waiting room and toilets. And the Riverside Walk featured at the head of this post.
No doubt East Herts Planning Department and all the other organisations and individuals who have posted objections will pore over the details and object all over again.
It makes my head ache.
If it makes you just as confused then you might like to sign the Hertford and Ware Labour Party petition to East Herts asking for clarification. Of course many of the councillors who have chewed these plans over have been replaced by a new Council. They may not be too excited about taking responsibility for past procrastination but look forward to a new and exciting future for Hertford, its traders, residents and visitors.
The good news is that the gates have finally been installed at either end of Maidenhead Street.
Much to mine and I understand many others, the gates do not actually block the entrances completely. There is a wide gap but not wide enough for delivery vehicles but could allow passage for mobility scooters and the like. I am waiting for the driver of a car such as a Fiat 500 to try and negotiate the entrance. What larks!
The pleasure of watching these old episodes is not just the understated humour or the welcome slip into barely disguised double entendres but the emphasis placed on character.
Instead the modern day drama concentrates on plot.
Who next will contract a physical or mental disease pulled from the deepest pages of a medical dictionary; or a crime committed usually found when watching one of the darker detective series?
Soap operas as we once knew them were welcome escapism from a day at work and to enjoy with the family over tea, or dinner.
I find myself complaining at the TV – bring back Reg Holdsworth, the Machiavellian supermarket manager who outside work became the sleazy and sometime charming man about town, who would beguile any female that took his fancy and just as valiantly fail.
Where have the Wiltons gone? Both in dressing gowns the under-achieving middle-management Derek brought the aspirational lower middle class Mavis a cup of hot cocoa at bedtime only for a brick to come crashing through the window of the wrong house, their house.
And Jack and Vera Duckworth who seem to spend their entire married life arguing but as we all know love each other to the ends of the earth.
I could go on but must mention the very lovely Racquel who last week was the subject of a kindly wind-up from Des Barnes and Jim MacDonald who persuaded her that the ‘OG’ against her footballer boyfriend’s name in the paper was a very special goal, one he had scored all by himself, without the help of his team-mates.
Then of course there is ex-Army cook Percy Sugden and sporting the most colourful tinted hair, Phyllis Pearce. Both quite wooden but often spoke a great deal of common sense, railling against the extremes of the modern world.
I never quite ‘got’ Bet Gilroy nee Lynch but watching these old episodes I realise what a wonderful character she was and how she held the series together.
It may be a few months yet but I can’t wait for characters like the local master butcher Fred Elliott – I say Fred Elliott – to appear. This is a pleasure yet to come.
Along with the introduction of Roy Cropper who kept the keys to his flat on a long piece of string which was attached to the insides of his rather old maid type shopping bag.
I am reminded of Brian Chivers who was in the same class as me at secondary school.
He lost so many expensive fountain pens his mother attached the latest one to the inside of his blazer with a piece of strong. One day he pulled on the string and there at the other end was the top to his pen; the working, bottom part had disappeared into the same vacuum in space as all the others.
You may ask what my reveries on old episodes of Coronation Street are doing in my blog on Hertford.
Many factions in Hertford have never left the safety of their memory of how the town used to be and how they wish it was to this day. They oppose change for the sake of opposing change; meanwhile the world outside carries on without them. What is left is a town with no soul, no shops and very little else to recommend it.
I once had to explain to a bemused visitor seeking Hertford Castle that he had just left the Castle grounds unaware that the ‘Castle’ is really just the gatehouse as restored by Henry XIII. He had travelled many a mile to be so disappointed.
I am reminded of Jim Dixon the anti-hero of Kingsley Amis’ novel Lucky Jim. He is coerced by his superior to deliver his lecture on the subject of Merrie England. Just in time Dixon comes to his senses – Merrie England never existed. It is an invention of people who still live there in their minds.