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Although you’ll never hear it mentioned today, the junction of Cannons Mill Lane with Rye Street was formerly called Crabb’s Cross, the name borne in the Middle Ages by the fact that a cross stood here marking this spot as the town’s northern boundary. The last reference to the name was made in 1803 in the Minute Book of the Rectory of Stortford.
Like Collin’s Cross in Stansted Road (See Guide 10), the origin of the name probably stems from a local person; Crabb or Crabbe being a common surname at that time and frequently mentioned in early churchwardens accounts.
The fact that fields to the east of Rye Street – from this point to beyond the present day Red White and Blue public house – were named Crabb’s Field, Crabb’s Croft and Crabb’s Croft Mead, seem to endorse the theory for the naming of the cross.
The actual site of the cross isn’t known but it probably stood close to the small, humpback bridge that takes Rye Street over Bourne Brook – a tributary of the river Stort but now little more than a ditch. Early maps of the area indicate this watercourse as an Ancient Way running from east to west, and once the original road to Farnham. The route, now lost to fields, would have created a crossroads at this point and was all the more reason to site the cross here.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, beer houses in and around Bishop’s Stortford seemingly sprang up over-night. Many establishments were indigenous to the town’s malting industry, but with no regulation in licensing laws anybody could trade in beer and many opened up their own houses to do just that. It was a profitable business, mainly due to the fact that water was not particularly safe to drink and virtually everybody, including children, drank beer or spirits.
The perfect example of a private home being opened as a beer house stands opposite Cannons Mill Lane. In the 1800s, two terraced cottages (No’s 207 & 209 Rye Street) were combined to form the Prince of Wales public house – also know as the Odd Trick. In 1867 the landlord was Joseph Burles, but little else is known of the pub or of when it closed. Although the cottages are now privately owned their outward appearance has changed very little since that time.
Red White & Blue
A familiar landmark for nigh on 150 years, the Red, White and Blue public house at the junction of Hazel End, Rye Street and Michaels Road, finally ceased trading in 2007 – yet another victim of new laws affecting the trade of public houses and people’s ever-changing social habits.
The story goes that this Victorian property was built by a local landowner, who then gifted it to his son when he returned from the Crimean War (1853–1856). Grateful as he no doubt was, the son later turned the house into a pub and is said to have named it the Red White and Blue after the flagship of the fleet that was involved in the Crimean campaign. The only fault with this story, according to official naval records, is that no ship going by this name has ever been commissioned.
Another theory on the pub’s naming, albeit even more tenuous, suggests a link with the Revolutionary War of the late 18th century, and the the practise of flying red, white and blue pennants on Dutch naval ships to denote an admiral’s rank.
Assuming the date of the property’s construction is correct, and that it was owned around that time by a veteran of the Crimean War, it would seem more likely the name is an allusion to a song apparently made popular during the Crimean War called ‘Hurrah! for the Red, White and Blue’.
Earliest record of the pub came in 1854 when it was conveyed to brewers, EKO Fordham. In the 1930s there was sawdust on the floors and gas lamps around the dartboard, but it was modernised in the 1950s and again in the 1990s when a small extension was added for dining facilities. Despite this the pub never regained its early popularity and after standing empty for almost two years, was bought in early 2009 by a private investor. Renovation and alteration including a larger extension followed and in November 2009 it reopened as a rather stylish Indian restaurant named Mountbatten – the Viceroy’s Lounge. The origin of this name would seem to be a lot simpler; Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900–1979) being the the last Viceroy of India, who in 1947/8 oversaw the independence of India and Pakistan.
Some years ago, when drain digging was being carried out near to the property, workmen accidentally came across two Stone Age axes made of flint. These proved to be at least a quarter of a million years old and were proof that man lived in this area during the Ice Age.
During the 18th century Rye Street and the Manuden Road were in a constant state of bad repair, the damage caused mainly by heavy carts bringing grain into the town for malting. A petition by locals in 1790 brought about an Act in 1791 that enabled the Hockerill Turnpike Trust to build a link road between Manuden Road and the Newmarket Road (now Stansted Road), but not until 1823 was it finally built. With usual unimaginative thinking the road was first called ‘New Road’ then, later, St Michael’s Road. More recently it was changed to just Michaels Road – though why it was spelt this way is anybody’s guess.
Construction of the link road necessitated the building of a bridge across the river Stort, but after six years of constant use by heavy traffic it was declared unsafe. Problems then arose over whose responsibility it was to repair the bridge because the river at this point acts as the border between Essex and Hertfordshire and, in theory, meant that each half of the structure belonged to a different county. Arguments ensued, and while each county steadfastly refused to pay for repair, some traffic reverted to the old route and others gained access to the Newmarket Road via Hockerill. The dispute was finally resolved two-and-a-half years later when a Bill of Indictment against Essex resulted in rapid repair work and the road finally re-opened in November 1832.
Eleven years later, when the railway line from Bishop’s Stortford was extended to Newport, traffic in Michaels Road was once again disrupted for the building of a railway bridge.
In the late 19th century, the entire area between this point and Maze Green Road (approx 250 acres) was owned by the Gilbey family and known as Whitehall Estate. At that time it included Dane O’ Coys Farm (See Guide 5) and Foxdells Farm, and though neither now exist as actual farms the latter was reached by this lane – little more than a cart track and one of the few gravel roads left in Bishop’s Stortford.
At its start is the entrance to Rye Court – part of Sir John Barker’s former home – and a small terrace of cottages built in the 1800s to house estate workers and their families. At the top of the hill a gate gives entrance to Foxdells Farm, now a ramshackle of listed buildings in poor condition but used, since the early 1990s, as an animal rescue centre.
A good example of a property developer’s ingenuity stands at the corner of Foxdells Lane and Whitehall Lane. An old feed store and cattle shed, once owned by Foxdells farm, has now been cleverly converted into two homes. Each carries a nameplate as a reminder of past landowners here – Gilbey and Barker.
Whitehall Lane runs alongside the old perimeter wall of The Grange, the scale of its former grounds not fully realised until you reach the end of the wall where the lane joins Barrells Down Road. Just before that point is reached, a track to the right leads through a wooded area to Dane O’ Coys and the site of the former property called Whitehall, which in more recent years became Whitehall College.
The original Whitehall, a twelve-bedroomed property standing in 37 acres of land, was built by Sir John Barker for his only daughter Ann and her husband Tresham Gilbey, the third son of Sir Walter Gilbey. The couple, who married in 1886 spent the first nineteen years of their married life living with Ann’s parents at The Grange, not moving out until 1905, two years after her mother Sarah’s death. Their new home, Dane House standing opposite the entrance to Silver Leys in Hadham Road, was also built for them by her father Sir John.
The story goes that Sir John’s daughter didn’t much like Dane House after she and her husband took up residence, so moved back in with her father at The Grange where they stayed for a further ten years. When Sir John died in 1914 he is said to have left no heir, which implies his daughter was not included in his will. True or not, prior to his death Sir John is thought to have instigated the building of Whitehall for the couple, into which they moved in in 1916 and remained for the rest of their married life. It was here also, in 1933, that they entertained the Duchess of York (the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) before she officially opened a new wing of Rye Street Hospital.
*Dane House does still stand, but since 1905 has seen several changes to its use and structure (See Guide 7 – Dane House).
Ann Tresham Gilbey died in 1941, Tresham Gilbey in 1947, aged 84. The house and estate was then put up for auction sale but on failing to reach its reserve price, Whitehall was withdrawn and the rest of the estate split up and sold in separate lots.
Horses played a large part in Tresham Gilbey’s life and consequently Whitehall included large stable blocks. Soon after his death this part of the estate was taken over by a former cavalry officer, Percy J Rhimes, for use as a riding school of which he was the chief instructor. From the early 1950s the house itself became the Senior Boarding House for girls attending nearby Chantry Mount High school (See Guide 5), and Whitehall Riding School continued throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s.
When Chantry Mount High School closed in the 1970s so too did Whitehall, remaining empty for several years and becoming almost derelict. Its salvation came in the early 1980s when it was bought, along with 37 acres of land, by The Manufacturing Science and Finance Union (MSF) for use as their head office and as a training college. They restored the house to its former glory, adding extensions to accommodate 55 students and providing many facilities, including a swimming pool and sauna. In 1987 the college was the venue of an historic Labour Party decision on its constitution, under the leadership of Neil Kinnock.
In 2001 the MSF merged with the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union to form Amicus, and in 2007 Amicus merged with the TGWU to form Unite. That same year a survey of the properties that made up Whitehall College, is said to have revealed the presence of large amounts of asbestos, which would prove far too expensive to remove. As a result of this Unite sold the property and vacated it in 2007.
Local property developers Arlberg Group moved in in late 2008, demolishing most buildings to do with the former college including the old stable blocks, dormitories and theatre. The large site was then redeveloped for exclusive housing – ten in total, two of which cost in excess of £1.5m. Whitehall itself was refurbished and converted to a 5-bedroom luxury home.
Read Joy Gurden’s childhood memories of her time spent at Whitehall Riding School in the 1950s: SEE MEMORIES PAGE, GUIDE 7
Barrells Down Road (Windmill) and Lindsey Road
The undulating character of Bishop’s Stortford is barely noticeable as we transport ourselves everywhere by car, but its hilly terrain is certainly apparent when walking.
The potential of these hills was fully realised in the 17th and 18th centuries when the demand for flour by a growing population, both locally and nationally, far exceeded the output of water mills. The answer to the problem was windmills, and Bishop’s Stortford is known to have had three. One was was sited on this hill in Barrells Down Road opposite Whitehall Road, and in one early illustration of the town it can be clearly seen in the distance.
The first recorded owner of the windmill was a miller named Thomas Davey, who lived here with his wife in 1841. It was then taken over by Thomas Linsell, the 1851 census recording him as ‘Miller and Baker of Lindsey Common’. However, a later census lists him as just a Baker and it isn’t known if the windmill was still used to produce flour at that time.
By 1890 the Bakery – housed in a two-storey building – was in the hands of Edward Button, who continued to run it as such until at least the turn of the 20th century. When the windmill was finally taken down is unknown but on part of the site was a long stable/cart shed, which, though much altered, now forms part of the premises of 150 Barrells Down Road.
A Government priority after the First World War was reconstruction, not only of social services such as education, health care and transport, but also housing – the estimate being that 800,000 new council houses were needed to replace unsafe inner city slums. With the passing of the Addison Act building work began, but was abandoned in 1922 after little more than 200,000 houses were built. Good housing proved far too expensive for a government already deeply in debt because of the war. This led to the Housing Act 1922–1930, which encouraged house building by granting subsidies to private developers. A further act in 1924 subsidised local authorities to do the same. The result was what we now call ‘Suburbia’.
Bishop’s Stortford certainly wasn’t blighted by slum housing, but even here the housing act paved the way for new property developments and town expansion. Locally, *Lindsey Road was one of the first areas to feature new properties borne of the Act: semi-detached 3-bedroom houses built in the now familiar 30s style and stretching almost the entire length of the northern side of the road. These were followed in 1936 by the nearby development of Pinelands estate (situated behind Lindsey Road) and also of Meadowlands and Grangeside in Rye Street.
Present day house buyers faced with ever increasing prices may wince at this, but in 1936 a new 3-bedroom semi-detached freehold property in Pinelands was advertised at £535. For this you also got a tiled bathroom with porcelain bath suite and toilet, airing cupboard, electric fires, living room with bay window, separate dining room and garden. A deposit of £5 secured any site. Those unable to afford the cash price of a house could put down a £30 deposit and pay a mortgage of 14s. 5d. (72p) per week. One advertisement of the time described the properties thus: Houses of no regrets; small houses of character, houses of honest-to-goodness value, where every brick is well and truly laid.
By the late 1930s over 300,000 similar style houses were being built every year, and between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II over four million houses had been constructed.
*Lindsey Road was formerly a cart track linking Rye Street with Barrells Down Road. It takes its title from the original name of this area, Lindsey’s Field.