Power Flush Bishop’s Stortford

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Bishop’s Stortford is a historic market town in Hertfordshire, England, located just west of the M11 motorway on the county border with Essex, 27 miles (43 km) north of central London, and 35 miles (56 km) by rail from Liverpool Street station. In 2019, Bishop’s Stortford’s population was estimated to be 40,815 people. The town’s district, East Hertfordshire, has been named the best place to live in the UK by the Halifax Quality of Life annual survey in 2020. 

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  • HISTORY

    Etymology
    The town’s name’s origins are unknown. One theory is that the Saxon settlement got its name from ‘Steorta’s ford’ or ‘tail ford,’ in the sense of a ‘tail,’ or tongue, of land. The town was renamed Bishop’s Stortford after it was purchased in 1060 by the then-Bishop of London. 

    The River Stort is named after the town, not the other way around. Cartographers visiting the town in the 16th century reasoned that the town must have been named after the ford across the river and assumed the river was called the Stort. 

    Pre-Roman and Roman Stortford were the first settlements.

    Until the Roman era, little is known about Bishop’s Stortford, with the only evidence being small archaeological finds. The Meads and Silverleys have yielded limited evidence of ancient Mesolithic and Microlithic peoples in the form of flakes, cores, and an axe. The majority of the bronze age evidence comes from the neighbouring parish of Thorley to the south, rather than Stortford itself, but a 3,000 year old socketed spearhead was discovered on Haymeads Lane within the town. Settlement evidence has been discovered on Dunmow Road dating from the Middle Bronze Age to the Romano-British period. Jacqueline Cooper concludes in Bishop’s Stortford: A History that “existing evidence suggests that the Stortford area was settled only sparingly in prehistoric times, and nearby places like Braughing and Little Hallingbury were more important.”

    Bishop’s Stortford was on the Roman Road, Stane Street, which connected St Albans to Colchester via Braughing. Around the year 50AD, work on the road began. Excavations revealing a section of the road, evidence of a cremation facility, and a burial site are the only surviving artefacts from the time period. None of the excavations have turned up any evidence of the Roman fort that most likely existed in Stortford. The settlement was most likely abandoned in the fifth century, following the disintegration of the Roman Empire. 

    Stortford’s Refoundation: Post-Roman and Medieval Stortford

    Following the Roman era’s end, a new Saxon settlement grew up on the site.

    However, until the 1060s, little is known about Bishop’s Stortford, with evidence becoming much stronger after the Norman Conquest.

    In 1060, William, Bishop of London, paid £8 for Stortford manor and estate, giving rise to the town’s modern name. By 1086, the motte-and-bailey Waytemore Castle had been built as a local stronghold. It served as a defence and civil administration centre for approximately 125 years before being dismantled but not destroyed by King John in 1211. The castle was rebuilt at John’s expense the following year, and he spent the night there in 1216. The castle had fallen into disrepair by the 15th century, and the Bishop’s Court (one of the area’s administrative structures) was relocated to Hockerill, to the east of town.

    The village had a population of around 120 at the time of the Domesday Book,[14] which grew to around 700 by the 13th century.

    In terms of governance, early Medieval Bishop’s Stortford was part of the Braughing Hundred, but it gained burgesses and was taxed as a borough between 1306-36. However, no charter exists, and civil authority was delegated to two local manor courts, the Castle and the Rectory. During the reigns of Edward II and Edward III, Stortford briefly sent two members to parliament, with writs issued to the town in 1311–1315, 1318, 1320, 1322, and 1340.

    Early Modern Stortford and the Plague

    Bishop’s Stortford was primarily an agricultural community at the start of the early modern period, in the mid 15th century, but it had also acquired a tanning industry.

    Bishop’s Stortford had grown into an important malting centre by the 16th century. Not only were the local soils well suited for grain production, but the fact that the town was only 35 miles from London aided in its expansion. By the middle of the 16th century, the economic draw of the maltings and the town’s market had supported a large number of inns and public houses, indicating the town’s prosperity.

    Stortford expanded significantly over the next century. Bishop’s Stortford’s population reached 1,500 by 1660 as a result of a positive net birth rate and migration to the town.  Despite a dozen plagues between the 1560s and 1660s, this was the case. In the 17th century, the town also received a series of royal visits, with Charles I visiting in 1625, 1629, and 1642.

    The years following the last of Charles’ visits would be difficult for the town. During the English Civil War, Stortford supported the Parliamentarians, with the Bishop of London’s Manor of Stortford being taken from him and sold for £2,845. During the Restoration, it was returned to the Bishop.  The Great Plague of 1666-7, and its long-term consequences, reduced the population to around 600 people by 1700. The plague’s effects were so severe that the town had to make an appeal to the Hertfordshire magistrates, who levied a rate on every parish in the county to help Bishop’s Stortford, Hoddesdon, and Cheshunt.

    Despite the demographic impact of the Great Plague, the construction of the ‘Hockerill by-pass’ in 1670 may have been a watershed moment in Stortford’s history.

    In the 1660s, King Charles II was increasingly travelling from London to Newmarket for the races, and he despised the noise and congestion of Stortford, with its ornate market, maltings, and tanneries. Furthermore, the route was not always passable, as diarist Samuel Pepys noted in his diary on May 23, 1668: ‘and so to Bishop’s Stafford. The ways mighty full of water so as hardly to be passed’. As a result, the road from London to Newmarket was rerouted to the east of Stortford’s central business district, passing through the outlying settlement of Hockerill. Hockerill’s inns became popular overnight stopovers for overnight coaches heading to East Anglia. In 1744, the Essex and Hertfordshire Turnpike Trust (later Hockerill Turnpike Trust) was established to repair the road between Harlow Bush Common and Stump Cross in Great Chesterford. Later Acts of Parliament extended the Trust’s term and permitted new road construction. Beginning in March 1785, mail coaches ran between London and Norwich via Stortford.  Thus, the improved highways marked the start of the first phase of Stortford’s growth, which was fueled by emerging transportation technology.

    The Stort Navigation, which canalised the River Stort and opened in 1769, was the second major transport development to provide a significant boost to the town. The inability of the malting industry to use the Stort for river transport, which caused significant damage to local roads and gave a competitive advantage to neighbouring malting areas like Ware, which were linked to London by the River Lea, drove improvements to the Stort’s navigation. George Jackson’s (later Sir George Duckett’s) canal work had the added benefit of lowering the risk of flooding in the town.

    From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the end of World War II

    Industrialisation came to Stortford as a result of the roads and Stort navigation providing easy access to London markets. The Stort navigation brought new industries to the town, including bargemen, lock-keepers, wharfingers, coal and timber merchants. The malting industry saw significant growth as well, with brown malt production doubling between 1788 and 1811. Together with national brewing industry trends, the 40 malthouses in Stortford in the early 1800s helped to stimulate the local brewing trade. There were 18 brewers in town at the turn of the nineteenth century, which boosted the inn trade.  The town’s boom boosted the metalworking and bricklaying trades, as well as the general retail trade. According to a contemporary directory, there were 30 major traders in 1791.

    The vibrancy of the local economy, particularly the agricultural trade sector, was demonstrated in 1828, when a group of local businessmen built the Bishop’s Stortford Corn Exchange, which housed 65 dealers.

    By this time, the town directory had 200 commercial entries, and by the turn of the century, it had 350.

    The arrival of the railway in 1842 was the third major transportation innovation that had a significant impact on Stortford. The line ran from London Liverpool Street to Stortford at first, but by 1845, it had been extended to Norwich. The new rail link effectively ended the coaching industry, and the Stort Navigation went into terminal decline. The town, on the other hand, was booming. Massive new residential estates sprang up in the decades following the railway’s construction in the New Town (to the south and west of the historic core) and Hockerill (across the river to the east of the historic core).  To bring goods into Stortford from the surrounding more rural areas, a branch line was built from Stortford to Braintree, with the first section to Great Dunmow opening in 1864.  The single-track line struggled to gain traction, with only seven eastbound and six westbound trains per day by 1922.  The bus service that began between Stortford and Dunmow in 1920 contributed to the line’s demise, which was closed to passengers in 1952 and freight in 1972. 

    From the mid-nineteenth century onward, the town’s public utilities and governance grew rapidly. The town’s first gas street lights were installed in the 1830s, the New Cemetery opened in 1855, a sewage farm and an isolation hospital were built in the 1870s, and the town’s first proper hospital opened in 1895. 

    During WWII, Bishop’s Stortford served as an evacuation centre for many British citizens, including Clapton Girls Technology College.

    GEOGRAPHY

    Bishop’s Stortford has grown around the River Stort valley, with the town centre lying about 60 metres above sea level and rising to more than 100 metres on the town’s eastern and western outskirts.

    Due to its location in the south-east, the town has a warmer climate than the rest of the country, with summer temperatures occasionally reaching the mid-30s C. It is also one of the driest places in the country. Snow is common in the winter months due to the town’s proximity to the east coast, where cold, moist air from the North Sea and cold fronts from northern Europe are brought in. In recent years, up to three inches of snow have fallen early in the year, causing minor disruptions in transportation and forcing some schools to close for several days. The snow, on the other hand, does not tend to stick around in significant quantities.

    Affinity Water provides water to the town. The water is classified as very hard because it contains more than 345 mg/l of minerals and 0.225 mg/l of fluoride.

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