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First mention of this inn was in 1636 when it was held by one John Ward, and though the brick exterior gives it the appearance of being a much later building, they cover a timber-frame structure the foundations of which were likely to have been laid in the 16th century. Former town brewers Hawkes & Co bought the Star in 1808.
An entrance at the corner of the building that once opened onto Water Lane was bricked-up in the early 1900s, perhaps to protect departing patrons from potential accidents due to increased traffic. The side of the building is half covered in traditional weatherboard, while at the rear can be found the inn’s old water pump and former
stables. The stable yard later became a car park but is now a small pub garden. In the early 20th century the Star advertised accommodation for cyclists, making it particularly popular with people from local villages who would stop overnight to ensure an early start to Thursday’s market.
Former celebrated local artist, John Kynnersley Kirby (See Guide 11), a painter of many local scenes and characters in the early 1900s, once used the interior of the Star for a painting entitled ‘The Slate Club Secretary’. In it he portrayed a freelance journalist named Jimmy Sell set against the pub’s smoke-laden Victorian wallpaper.
Several shops occupy the south side of Bridge Street, all, apart from the brick building next to the Black Lion, housed in two 17th century timber-frame buildings. The upper floor of the smallest of these buildings still leans precariously into the street as it did when first built and, inside, its original timber framework is now fully exposed, as is the fireplace at the rear of the shop that is almost certainly original.
The larger building alongside it houses three shops and is two and a half-storeys high; the half-storey being added in the mid – late 17th century to accommodate attic rooms. There are four gables and three first floor bay windows, although the bays were not part of the original construction. Of the three shops beneath the most interesting unfortunately closed for business in July 2009, becoming yet another subject of Stortford’s rich history. Locals will fondly recall the name of the shop, G.H. Wilson’s ‘Specialist Confectioners and Tobacconist’, many remembering their childhood years buying sweets from glass jars and a bag of penny treats from within. And for those men who enjoyed a good cigar, a glass cabinet on the counter displayed the finest and most varied selection available in the town.
George Wilson established his first shop in 1926, when he arrived here from Derbyshire and bought a former kiosk that stood alongside the old Empire cinema in South Street. Up until 1915, when the Empire closed, the kiosk sold sweets and cigarettes to cinema goers. (See Guide 15 – Cinemas). George continued there until the early 1970s, when both the former cinema and kiosk were finally demolished to make way for a new Tesco store. He then moved to these premises in Bridge Street.
George Wilson is perhaps best remembered in the town for the part he played in the successes of the town’s football club. After joining the supporters club shortly after arriving here he became a committee member in 1927, later president and in the 1940s, chairman. He was the man most responsible for Bishop’s Stortford FC rising from local league football in the 1920s to become one of the top non-league clubs in the country during the 1970s. His greatest honour, however, came in 1970 when the club showed its gratitude by renaming the Rhodes Avenue ground, George Wilson Stadium (See Guide 12 – Rhodes Avenue). George died in 1982, aged 90.
When the shop changed hands in 1997 its new owners knew the benefit of keeping an established and trusted name above the shop and continued selling sweets and tobacco. Unfortunately, though, times change and businesses die. In 2009 the lease was suspended by the owner of the property, the bailiffs were called in and the name G.N. Wilson became yet another fond memory.
Originally part of the medieval town this small thoroughfare is said to have once been called Dunghill Lane, the name supposedly given because dung carts from the market place parked here.
This may be partly true, though it seems more likely the name was derived from the fact that dung was heaped here when the stables of the Black Lion Inn were cleaned out. Thankfully, the name didn’t stick!
The present name ‘Devoils Lane’ is equally unusual and its origin equally debated. Popular belief has it that it was derived from the surname of a person who either owned property or lived in the lane in the early 18th century. The first mention I can find of Devoils Lane is in Kelly’s Directory 1846, at which time the following three tradesmen are listed: James Winterborn, Carpenter and coffee house; Fred Flindall, Tinman & Brazier, and Robert Burton, Smithy.
Street and place names were, and still are, generally named after people or are descriptive of use and surroundings. There is certainly a French feel to the name Devoil and it may well stem from the surname de Voil. This in turn may derive from a family who once traded in the market place and made or dealt in fabrics, more especially voile. Voile is French for veil, descriptive of a thin semi-transparent material made of cotton, wool, or silk, and most often used as lightweight clothing for women or for curtains. Wool voile is called ‘Voile de Laine’, which may well have been Anglicised to Devoils Lane.
In contrast to the 20th century shops on the eastern side of this narrow lane that are part of the Jackson Square development, the buildings on its western side are 16th and 19th century. The large, three-storey Victorian building at the end of the lane, currently occupied by offices, a Building Society and a book shop, was the town’s first purpose-built post office designed by renowned local architect George Pritchett FSA.
Erected in 1890, it is thought that Pritchett incorporated into the construction a timber-framed house that already occupied the site. Later that same year the post office was modified by local builder Joseph Glasscock who installed one of the country’s first hydraulic lifts here. This was used to carry mail between the first floor sorting office and the street below where mail carts delivered and collected. Entrance to the post office was at the top of the stone steps leading to Market Square – a large doorway with ornate stone surround and the Royal Arms mounted in the portico.
Elizabeth Millard, the town’s Postmistress since 1872 (previously at Bridge Street), continued her role until retirement in 1897. The post office remained here until 1921 and was then relocated to new premises at South Street – ironically, on the site of a previous post office that operated between 1874 and 1876 (See Guide 15).