Just like a rolling stone

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The French have a word for it. Loosely translated it means everything changes; nothing changes.

The French were wrong.

This was the view from our bedroom window in February 2021 before the work on Lea Wharf began.

About the same time I superimposed what it might look like once the Lea Wharf apartments had been built.

I took this photograph in mid January 2024

I objected to this development for many reasons. At the Planning meeting that lasted for hours it was said that the people of Hertford would rather have this than what was there at that moment. Basically a flattened building site.

The Conservatives and conservatives never raised a voice since. Despite continuously stating whenever and wherever possible that Hertford is a medieval, market town.

Unfortunately my guide to the Historical and Heritage sites of the Town Centre did not include Bircherley Green Shopping Centre, or Green Street as it was, or a bus station as it was before then, so it is difficult to defend what is there now.

Despite being in the centre of town which is a Local Conservation Area which are places where it is desirable to preserve and enhance the character and appearance it does neither.

Lea Wharf does not fit the bill.

It remains a blot on the landscape. The arrow on the building viewed from Railway Street seems to indicate the the River Lea, or actually the Lea Navigation is somewhere in the clouds. I have looked at the plans again and they seem to include not one but three bridges between Block A and Block B. There is just one. Fortunately. Not a bridge too far but a bridge going nowhere – an architectural frippery.

There is much that has changed in Hertford over the last couple of years. I used to record these changes but others have also recorded them.

One thing I have noticed is the proliferation of coffee shops. When I spent a week as an unwilling guest at the Stevenage Lister Hospital I looked forward to my wife arriving at about 7.30am with a coffee and a custard danish from Costa Coffee in reception.

So for a while once I was released we used Costa Coffee in Maidenhead Street but their tea never tasted as refreshing and they didn’t offer anything in the way of a custard danish.

I spent many a pleasant hour chatting over the comings and goings in town in Rose’s Café with Clive the Bircherley Green Site Manager and Keith the well known window cleaner. They were part of my network. I was always well treated in Rose’s and they had a custom of handing you cup of hot water with a tea bag floating in it so you could adjust the strength of your tea accordingly.

For a while the wife and I frequented Café Nero in Salisbury Square . With some trepidation we have since used Brew Garden in Maidenhead Street and very pleasant the coffee is. Although not the background chatter of coffee drinkers working from home!!

However those who know me are aware that my favourite beverage is beer; not any beer but real ale and for that Hertford is spoilt.

I moved to Hertford in 1980 and have drunk (!) in all the pubs but they have changed. Some are now bars, some are now venues. We have spread our custom between the Black Horse (occasionally), Old Cross Tea Rooms, the back bar of the Salisbury Arms for lunch, the Woolpack and as we live on Folly Island one (!) for the road at the Old Barge (which has became our local again).

In between this tour on our return from the Great Ormond Street Hospital where our grandson Zach was being treated for a brain tumour we hid ourselves away in the Duncombe Arms.

We flirted with Wetherspoons for a while as they were the only pub in Hertford that accepted the 50 pence off real ale vouchers from CAMRA. When the noise from the creche facilities became too intrusive we returned to the Woolpack as McMullens kept the price of their beers (not lagers) at a good level. I developed a liking for AK and after some twenty years drinking it didn’t get any digestive problems after more than three pints.

I hope on my demise someone will place a blue plaque on those pubs, few a they are, where I did not drink.

My spiritual home has always been the White Horse in Castle Street since I moved to Hertford in 1980ish and used as a bible the Good Beer Guide.

Courtesy PubsandBeers.co.uk

I was never happier than in the right hand bar. Yes, it was small and it was in the days when Mick Peck was the owner and served up the widest range of excellent real ales for miles around. It had only just introduced a spirit license.

However it was warm in winter with a fire burning between the two bars, limited bare furniture but plenty of good companions and a welcoming atmosphere. In other words it was a pub. Read this poem by John Betjeman. The Village Inn and you will understand.

However I go there infrequently now owing to aging bones. I went there with my son just before Christmas 2022 and only his strong arms got me home in one piece. It is easy getting there but not so easy coming home!

So now we do not stray far from home and have made The Old Barge our local again coming full circle and allowing this rolling stone to come to rest.

By John Barber

John Barber was born in London at the height of the UK Post War baby boom. He had careers in Advertising, International Banking and the Wine Industry before becoming Town Centre Manager in his home town of Hertford. He has been writing professionally since 1996 when he began to contribute articles to magazines on social and local history. His first published book in 2002 was a non-fiction work entitled The Camden Town Murder, a hitherto unsolved murder case from 1907.