Sawbridgeworth's society life

PUBLISHED: 17:27 22 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:53 20 February 2013

Joseph Fitzgerald, Assistant Chairman of Rivers Nursery and Orchard Site, cutting grass in orchard

Joseph Fitzgerald, Assistant Chairman of Rivers Nursery and Orchard Site, cutting grass in orchard

Pears, bells and planes are at the heart of three passionate societies in this quintessentially English town, as Richard Young discovers...

Orchard saviours

SAWBRIDGEWORTH can lay claim to being one of the most important centres of fruit cultivation in the world, thanks to its Rivers Nursery Orchard.

The nursery dates back to 1725 when John Rivers founded his collection here. But it was a hundred years later when Thomas Rivers took over its management that his passion for developing new cultivars began to change the fruit world. In 1888 he created his most famous fruit, the Conference Pear.

Despite its importance, another 100 years later the orchard and nursery were threatened with destruction after a garden centre at the site closed. Thankfully a group of green activists got together to save it and their successors, the Rivers Nursery Site and Orchard Group, manage it today.

Leading this group of diverse volunteers is Kate Yarnold, who has been helping to restore the site since 2005.

I got involved with the restoration of the orchard because it was a place that I had been aware of as a child growing up in Hertfordshire. My parents had purchased their fruit trees from Rivers when they first moved into the area in the 1970s, the 49-year-old says.

Living locally my love of walking out in the fresh air often took me through the site and I loved the beauty and peace in the orchard, every season has its own quality and beauty, the atmosphere is intoxicating.

The more I learnt about the history of the orchard it became important to me to help keep this gem.

The future of the site is again uncertain however, after the lease to East Herts District Council expired last year. The group is unable to apply for the grants it relies upon while the ownership status of the site is unclear and have relied on donations from supporters to keep going.

We are trying all we can to work with the authorities in getting a robust protection that is required, Kate says. We wish to formalise a lasting statutory protection of the site, to develop the archive collection and find it a permanent home for the future and to protect the flora and fauna of the site. It is important to preserve the orchard from a historical and horticultural point.

The Rivers Nursery Site and Orchard Group hold an open meet on the first Sunday in the month at 10.30am to 1.30pm to carry out maintenance tasks. Their next big event will be a community apple picking day on Sunday October 2.

To find out more go to

Squadron antics

FOR nearly 50 years air cadets have been an important part of the social life of the town and today 309 Squadron Air Training Corps gives youngsters a wide range of opportunities to expand their knowledge and have fun.

The current mixed group of 13 to 19-year-olds meet at the squadrons purpose-built headquarters where they parade twice a week. Outside of parade evening they experience powered flying at RAF Wyton, gliding at Wethersfield, participate in Duke of Edinburghs Awards as well as taking part in adventure training, sports and charity work.

Commanding Officer of the squadron, Andrew Passfield, says one of the greatest benefits of air cadet membership is the personal development opportunities offered to young people through the extensive range of activities available.

Many of these appear very daunting initially, can be very demanding and challenging, but are exactly the type of activities that enable a young person to grow as an individual and to explore and experience opportunities not available to them elsewhere, says the 52-year-old who has been involved with the Sawbridgeworth cadets since he joined as a boy in 1972.

It will come as no surprise that all cadets follow a syllabus of training that is aviation biased and provides a direct link to our parent service, the Royal Air Force, he adds. And consequently includes an emphasis on good discipline through encouraging and promoting teamwork, which is introduced early on through the wearing of the uniform and undertaking foot drill something which our youngsters respond to very positively!

He says that one of the great strengths of the organisation lies in the diverse knowledge of its volunteer staff who pass on their expertise and life experiences to the cadets.

The principal motivator for the majority of adults involved in this organisation is bearing witness to the personal development and maturing of the young people in our charge and the satisfaction derived from being a part of this process, he says.

The squadron meets at its HQ on Bullfield Open Space off Cutforth Road. Call 01279 723517 on Monday and Thursday parade evenings to find out more.

Ringing the changes

ONE reassuring sound you will hear of an evening in Sawbridgeworth is the church bells ringing out, thanks to the enthusiasm of the towns ringers.

Tower captain, 73-year-old Clive Moore learnt the skill in his late teens and was already an old hand when he joined the Sawbridgeworth Society of Ringers in the early 1970s.

The society, which has been around since at least the latter part of the 19th century, currently numbers about 15 men and women of varying levels of ability and experience aged from the mid-20s upwards.

The group ring for Sunday services, for weddings and in competition with other bell ringers in the district and county.

Clive, who is charged with keeping an eye on the condition of the bells in Great St Marys as well as mentoring his fellow campanologists, says bell ringing is a fabulous pastime that more people should take up.

We are fortunate in Sawbridgeworth in having a local band of ringers, Clive says. Many places struggle and there are a lot of places where the bells are silent due to lack of ringers. However, throughout the country there are, here and there, a number of initiatives being pursued to recruit and encourage beginners.

When a person takes to ringing they can then go into the exercise for any depth they may desire. There they can find beneficial physical activity, go on a lifelong learning curve, have the joy of helping to keep an ancient skill going, be part of a team and make new friends, enjoy the social side, visit lots of other places and be welcomed everywhere.

To chime with Clive and his band of ringers on a Monday evening, email the society secretary at, or go to The Hertford County Association of Change-Ringers website to find a group near you.

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