This is your home town

Son take a good look around
This is your home town.

Bruce Springsteen

I am tired of everybody telling me that Hertford is the county town. Maybe it is;  but on what grounds?  Look at this.

Access to salisbury square
Maidenhead Street

This is the situation facing anyone walking through Maidenhead Street towards Salisbury Square. You have to turn left and cross Bull Plain. Try looking up Bull Plain from Folly Bridge:

looking south along Bull Plain
Looking towards Bull Plain

Traders are complaining about loss of trade, residents are completely baffled and if I were a first time visitor I doubt if I would want to return.

I know that parts (parts! all of it really) of the town needed resurfacing to make it safe for pedestrians. Those with a memory as long as mine will recall that it took a trip over cobbled stones by the then Mayor Cllr Richard Ovenden to have something done about the surface.

People are asking me why is it necessary to dig up one set of stones to replace them with another set, but of a different colour.

I answer that as far as I know it is easier to apply and receive a grant for capital projects than say for a marketing or a tourist initiative. So you can get millions of pounds for new pavements but diddly squat to attract anyone into town to walk over them.

I know because I have been there. Are visitors really going to flock to Hertford just to marvel at our pavements? Fine, you can walk without tripping over but there is nothing here to spend your money on, apart from bars, nail bars and sandwich bars.

I walk through town most days and the only shops that seem to have any custom at all is Poundstretcher and the charity shops. This is a county town and this is the best we can offer!

The best laugh I had this week was this story in the incredibly shrinking Hertfordshire Mercury. It concerns the planning row over the proposed building of a Premier Inn.

I have written enough words on these pages, on this subject, to complete a small book so I will not comment further only to once again show a photo of the blank space now occupying a prime site in the county town.

Centurion house demolished
Demolition site

Do the Officers and Members at East Herts Council sincerely believe that they know what is best for Hertford. There has been no progress on this application for years. It is likely to remain a pale imitation of a post-war NCP car park last seen in Passport To Pimlico [1949] – DVD from Amazon – and that was a bomb site!.

There was a time when local councillors either lived or ran a business in the town that they represented. I don’t think that is true any more because what person who had a personal or financial interest in Hertford would allow this fiasco to continue, or even begin.

Have those Officers and Members actually walked around town lately. To the east of the site is Bircherley Court, painted in primary colours and looking like nothing else in town. Halfords across the road is painted black and yellow and Anytime Fitness in the same revamped Marquee Centre has its name back lit with violet neon.

Yes I know that the old Bircherley Green Shopping Centre was situated in the Hertford Conservation Area but it was built in 1981 and there was nothing of architectural or historical interest in it to preserve or enhance.

Friends Meeting House
Friends Meeting House in Railway Street

The Friends Meeting House is what those that know best say they are trying to protect. I may hold a very minority view but an old, interesting building in the middle of a sprawling modern development has an even deeper charm.

It seems to me that East Herts Council is just trying to score points by claiming that it holds the high moral ground over architectural design when in fact, by throwing out every application by Diageo, have been delaying a development that holds the key to Hertford’s future.

Anyone who has tried to maintain trade in the face of sustained road works or a major redevelopment outside your shop knows that in the long term once you have lost customers who are fed up with the disruption, they never come back. The longer the disruption the deeper the cut to income and with it the chances of retaining your customer base.

I noticed years ago that during the week Hertford town centre was only filled with the elderly, young mothers, the unemployed and the economically disenfranchised. This is not the basis for a thriving economic community. There are no shops selling normal goods and even traders who have been here a long time, and they are getting fewer, will agree with long term residents that: ‘there is nothing in Hertford to come here for’.

The Saturday charter market is shrinking, the Farmers Market is showing less affinity with local farming and the number of outlets offering food and drink is rapidly increasing.

What does Hertford offer that make people believe it should still be called the county town? There is no court, no police station open all hours if at all, no tax office and a town where even pedestrians cannot cross the road in a straight line.

There is no political opposition worth talking about, the local paper is a pale imitation of the one that I remember splashing local issues on the front page; and there are no town centre organisations fighting the town’s corner.

As T S Eliot said; ‘this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper’.

Back to my posts index

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.