Bishop's Stortford stands the test of time
PUBLISHED: 17:54 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:05 20 February 2013
This ancient market town has a wealth of history and a past and present to be proud of, as Sue Armstrong discovers
ON market days in Bishop's Stortford, the banter of stallholders echoes all around and a lively and friendly atmosphere filters through the streets. The lofty spire of St Michael's Church looks down on the scene and across to the colourful long boats, lined up along the riverside.
Situated in rural Hertfordshire, the town nestles on the border of Essex, and is surrounded by outstanding countryside and picturesque villages.
A recent multi-million pound development here has brought with it an impressive extension to the Jackson Square indoor shopping centre and a 700-space car park. The town is flourishing with new shops, cafes and restaurants arriving on the scene and many existing stores have expanded or moved into larger premises.
These are exciting times for Bishop's Stortford and it is becoming increasingly popular with commuters with its direct mainline rail links to London, Stansted Airport and Cambridge. With a population of more than 36,000 and rising, it is the largest town in the east of the county.
Whilst many historic buildings still line the shopping streets, their original owners made way for newcomers in the wake of supermarkets and big high street names. At one time North Street was lined with many traditional general stores - butchers, grocers, bakers, chemists, sweet shop and tobacconist. It was also home to the Chequers Hotel, now occupied by Savills, one of a number of estate agents populating this character street - a sign of modern times.
Amongst all the new faces, many long established stores have survived the generations. Carr and Bury, on the corner of North Street, is just one example, specialising in fabrics, knitting wool and sewing machines. The origins of this store go back to 1891 when Amos Pryor established a drapery and haberdashery business here. Boardmans, with the distinctive white hart standing above its door, sells books, stationery and office furniture and has run its business from these premises since 1865. Pearsons department store, a newcomer in comparison, has been in the town since 1972, selling everything from fashions and cosmetics, to kitchenware and furniture. This elegant early 18th century building was previously occupied for many years by H Sparrow Ltd, ironmongers.
Just around the corner in the High Street is the oldest of them all, Tissiman & Sons Ltd, selling distinctive menswear. This company has recently been reported in Family Business magazine to be the third oldest family business in the UK, also ranking as the 27th oldest family business in the world. Tissimans was established in 1601 as a tailor, draper and undertaker, in the beautiful timbered building which looks across to St Michael's Church. The oldest part of the premises dates from 1360.
Tony Arnold, who has owned the business since 1966, says, 'When I joined Tissimans in 1958 it was my first job and I have been here ever since. When hand tailoring was at its peak the shop employed 18 tailors making suits, coats and country clothing. Nowadays they are made to measure by computer and laser cut. The timbers of this building are solid oak and it is reputed to have a tunnel running across to the church but I am yet to find it!'
Clement Joscelyne, in the Market Square, is another survivor of the years, specialising in house furnishing and interior design. In the late 1870s Clement Joscelyne cycled to Bishop's Stortford from Braintree, in Essex, to look for premises for a furniture shop. He found No.16 Market Square for sale, a 16th century property occupied by George Sapsford, butcher and slaughterer. Clement bought it, at a cost of 1,100, and after setting up home above the shop with his wife, Fanny, he converted the frontage and opened for business.
Bishop's Stortford has managed to keep pace with the needs of its changing community and visitors over the years and its excellent mix of old and new ensures that its character and popularity are still firmly in place.