Rhodes Avenue

After its formation in 1874, Bishop’s Stortford Football Club played mainly ‘friendly’ matches at Silver Leys – home to the town’s polo club – and between 1897 and 1900 used the Grammar school’s playing field at Hadham Road.

From there they went to a farmer’s field off of Havers Lane, and in 1903 moved to Laundry Field behind the Bishop’s Stortford Steam Laundry in Dunmow Road. Owned by Frederick Newey, and more popularly known as ‘Newey’s Laundry’, this stood opposite Hockerill College approximately where Urban Road is sited. The club’s changing room at this time was at the Falcon public house in Station Road.

Laundry Field remained the club’s home until the start of the First World War in 1914. No matches were played for the duration of the war, but when the club re-formed in 1919 the landlord of the Chequers Hotel, Joe Brazier, allowed them use of a piece of land he owned near South Road, known as Brazier’s Field. He’d bought the land from the Gilbey estate after Sir Walter’s death in 1915.

They played their very first match here on Saturday 4 October 1919, beating Ware 2-1 in front of a crowd of 400. At that time the only barrier between players and fans was a rope strung between posts around the pitch, and there was no shelter. The club president, Tresham Gilbey, later gave a wooden pavillion previously used by the polo club at Silver Leys.

In 1927 Brazier gave the club the opportunity to buy the land for £400. Fund raising was organized and when £300 was reached, Brazier accepted it. Some time later, a property developer building the Rhodes estate offered the club £1,100 for the site, but was refused.

Before Rhodes Avenue was constructed, entrance to the ground was via an alleyway behind the Thorley End goal, known as *’Sally Death’s Passage’. A wooden stand was erected in 1931, but not until the 1950s did fans have the luxury of covered terracing at each end of the ground. Ten years later the old stand was replaced by a new one seating almost 250 people, and dressing rooms and social facilities were added. The total cost of this refurbishment was £13, 282, and the ‘new’ ground opened on 24 November 1962. Floodlights were finally installed in 1967.

Around 1970 the name George Wilson Stadium was adopted in honour of the club chairman who had been a committee member since 1927. Dedicated fans, however, still referred to the ground as Rhodes Avenue.

Spiralling costs in the 1980s led to mounting debts and the club was eventually forced to sell their ground for property development. After 78 years on the site their last match was played in December 1997 against Ware, who they beat 2-1 – the same score as their very first match at the ground in 1919. The first match played at their new stadium at Woodside Park was in July 1999 (See Guide 10).

*Miss Sally Death lived at nearby South Lodge well into the 1920s, and was a prominent, unmistakeable, figure around the town, always wearing black.

Bishop’s Stortford’s branch of the Royal British Legion (See Guide 4) was founded in 1921 in a small building that stood behind the old football ground. Nearby Rhodes Avenue, Zambezi Road and Kimberley Close all take their name from Cecil Rhodes’s association with South Africa (See Guide 13).

At the corner of South road and Kimberley Close stands a rather unusual Victorian cottage. This was built towards the end of the 19th century by Sir John Barker to house the manager of his nursery that was also sited here. As founder and owner of Barkers department store in London (See Guide 7 – The Grange), he grew his own grapes for the store. But England’s weather was as unpredictable then as it is now, so in order to provide fruit all year-long the glasshouses in which they were grown were individually heated at different temperatures to promote growth all year round.

To keep budding wine makers at bay, the nursery was enclosed by a high wall that stretched northwards as far as Netteswell House (now the museum), and eastwards as far as South Mill Road. All that now remains of the wall is the small section alongside the cottage.

When Sir John died in 1915 the growing of grapes ceased and the land was sold, but it continued to be used as a plant nursery until 1931. By that time, though, its owners were deep in debt and the nursery had to be sold off.

One nurseryman, owed a great deal of money in back pay, was offered part of the nursery in lieu of what was due to him. This he accepted but, understandably, turned down the offer to buy more of the property through lack of finance. He became the first owner of the present-day nursery, which until recent years was owned and run by his son. The houses of Kimberley Drive are built on the original site of the main nursery.


In the early 1600s the only form of public transport was the carriers wagon or horse and cart. But by the 1660s the stagecoach, though still in its infancy, had made its entrance.

Early coaches were primitive affairs. A wood and leather body slung by leather straps was supported by four upright posts attached to an undercarriage, and beneath this a central beam, known as the ‘perch’, allowed for front swivelling wheels and fixed rear wheels. Suspension was still a long way off at this time and to travel in one of these coaches along unmade roads was a bone-shaking experience. Most journeys were only attempted in summer, but even in good conditions many of these early coaches fell apart along the route.

Only after 1702, when the role of Turnpike Trusts was fully implemented, did roads improve sufficiently to allow faster and slightly more comfortable travel. Throughout the 1700s stagecoach design improved dramatically and by the end of that century different construction methods had turned these vehicles into robust and practical carriers of people. Stagecoach drivers, renowned for their superb horsemanship, soon became masters of the road.

However, not until the early 1800s when road-builders Metcalf, Telford and Macadam had improved the highways beyond all recognition, did travel become ‘almost’ pleasurable. Combined with the addition of suspension in the form of a C-spring, and later the elliptic spring, coaches were able to attain speeds of up to 10 mph – cutting journey times by hours and in some cases days. What had been a two day journey from London to Cambridge (61 miles) in 1750, was possible in just seven hours by 1820.

London predominated as the hub of all stagecoach services up until the 1750s, but within ten years the number of provincial links had increased dramatically and stagecoach services were operating between all major towns and cities. Local services were still served by carrier’s carts, generally operating between public houses, but the much larger inns, offering accommodation and fine food, were always the starting and terminating points for those travelling longer distances.

To counter the population’s desire to travel, stagecoach capacity was also increased. The maximum number of six passengers able to be carried in the 1740s was increased to eight or ten (inside and out) by the end of the century, and by 1810 coaches were large enough to carry up to eight people inside in ‘reasonable’ comfort, with eight more taking their places outside – open to the elements but at a much reduced fare. There were accidents, though. Carrying so many people, as well as their luggage, often led to stagecoaches tipping over on the more winding roads.

Journeys were also invariably long and tedious and frequent stops were made at pre-determined inns along the way. Tired horses would be changed for a fresh team and passengers were allowed 10–20 minutes for refreshment and food. For innkeepers the stagecoaches were a lucrative trade, a prime example being the inns at Hockerill crossroads – particularly the Crown (See Guide 9 – The Crown Inn).

Although the coaching era spanned 200 years, the real boom was between 1810 and 1830. During this time a nationwide network of services had been formed and some 3,000 coaches, both private and mail, were employed in the transportation of people. Freight continued to be carried by the more efficient canal system until the 1830s but then went by rail, as did the mail from London. It was the arrival of the railways that put the final nail in the stagecoach coffin, for although they continued to be used in rural areas for some years to come, most people wanted to travel by rail.

The following entries are taken from four separate trade directories for Bishop’s Stortford, published in the early 19th century. Not only did these directories list the names of trade and business people in the town, they also included a timetable for privately owned stagecoaches leaving Stortford for London and the towns and villages of Essex and East Anglia. Note the marvelous names (in italic) that owners gave their stagecoaches.

A similar timetable was given for Carriers. Also privately owned, these horse-drawn wagons usually conveyed people to more local destinations – their pace much slower than stagecoaches and the fare far cheaper. Also shown was ‘Water Conveyance’, whereby members of the public could travel to London by barge via the rivers Stort and Lea. We can only guess at the cost and the time it would have taken to complete such a journey.

1823 Pigot’s Directory

POST OFFICE – North Street, James Summers, Post Master. London Mail arrives at three in the morning, and departs at midnight.

LONDON, from the George Inn, daily – (Sunday excepted) at half-past seven and eight in the morning.
LONDON, from the King’s Head, daily – (Sunday excepted) at a quarter before eight in the morning.
Coaches to and from London through Hockerill every two hours.

LONDON, George Flack, Potter Street, every Monday and Friday.
Waggons to and from London daily through Stortford.

1829 Directory

POST OFFICE – James Summers, Post Master, North Street. London mail arrives at half-past eleven at night, and is dispatched at ten in the evening.

To LONDON, Henry Gilbey, from his own house, daily to the Bull, Whitechapel; and from the Crown Inn, Hockerill, Bishop’s Stortford, to the George and Blue Boar, Holborn, and Green Dragon, Bishopsgate Street.

To London, John Crabb, Potter Street, twice a week.

Barges from Taylor & Son’s wharf and Joseph Miller’s and Benjamin Miller’s, South Street, to Blackwall, Greenwich, &c, days uncertain.

1839 Directory

POST OFFICE, North Street, James Hillatt Summers, Post Master – Letters from London arrive (by Norwich and Newmarket mail) every night at eleven, and are despatched every morning at three. Letters from Ware and the North arrive every night at eight, and are despatched every morning at seven. Letters from all parts of ESSEX & SUFFOLK arrive every morning at eight & are despatched every evening at six.

To LONDON, the Royal Mail and the Magnet (from Norwich), call at the Crown Inn, Hockerill, every morning at half-past two – the Times (from Cambridge), every morning (Sunday excepted) at half-past eight, and the Fly, at half-past twelve – and the Hero (from Fakenham & Swaffham), every evening (Sunday excepted) at a quarter past five.

To LONDON, a Coach from the George Hotel, every morning (Sunday excepted) at eight – and other Coaches, every Monday morning at five and six – the Marquess Cornwallis (from Bury), calls at the George Hotel, every afternoon at two – a Coach (from Haverhill), calls at the Chequers, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at twelve – and the Telegraph (from Norwich), calls at the Cock, every afternoon at three; all go through Sawbridgeworth, Harlow & Epping.

To BURY ST EDMUNDS, the Marquess Cornwallis, from the George, every day at twelve; goes through Chesterford & Newmarket.

To CAMBRIDGE, the Fly (from London), calls at the Crown, every afternoon (Sunday excepted) at a quarter before two – & the Times, every evening (Sunday excepted) at a quarter past five; both go through Stansted, Newport & Chesterford,

To FAKENHAM and SWAFFHAM, the Hero, from the Crown, every morning, at a quarter before ten; goes through Chesterford, Cambridge & Newmarket.

To HAVERHILL, a Coach (from London), calls at the Chequers, every Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday afternoon, at two; goes through Newport & Saffron Walden.

To NORWICH, the Royal Mail, (from London), calls at the Crown, every night, at half past eleven, and the Magnet, at eleven – and the Telegraph, calls at the Cock, every morning at half-past ten; all go through Quendon, Chesterford & Newmarket.

To SAFFRON WALDEN, a Coach, from the George Hotel, every evening (Sunday excepted) at half-past six.

To LONDON, John Mysom’s Waggons, from his house, Hockerill, & John Crabb, from his house, North Street, every Monday & Thursday; and Acorn & Bell’s Waggons, and William Gore, from the Red Lion, every Tuesday and Friday.

To LONDON, Charles Adams, from the Cock Inn, Hockerill, and Issac Bontell, from the Red Lion, Hockerill, every Monday – John Parish, from the Cock Inn, and John Pilgrim, from the Red Lion, every Tuesday – Samuel Fordham and Joseph Pilgrim, from the Cock Inn, and Joseph Ruse, from the Red Lion, every Wednesday; and William Cockerton & James Clements, from the Red Lion, every Friday.

To CHESTERFORD, John Pilgrim, from the Red Lion, every Thursday, and Joseph Pilgrim, from the Cock, every Friday.
To HAVERHILL, William Cockerton, from the Red Lion, every Sunday.
To LINTON, Samuel Fordham, from the Cock Inn, every Friday.
To NEWMARKET, William Gore’s and Acorn & Bell’s Waggons, from the Red Lion, every Wednesday and Saturday.
To SAFFRON WALDEN, Chas Adams, from the Cock, every Wednesday, and John Parish, every Thursday.
To SOHAM, James Clements, from the Red Lion, every Sunday.
To SWAFFIELD, Joseph Ruse, from the Red Lion, every Friday.
To THAXTED, Issac Bontell, from the Red Lion, every Wednesday.

CONVEYANCE BY WATER by the River Stort:
To LONDON, from the wharfs of Reginald Jennings and Taylor & Son

Kelly’s Directory 1846
After the railway arrived in Bishop’s Stortford in 1842, virtually all stagecoach services between the town and London ceased. This is apparent in the following directory list, which records just one coach leaving the George Inn bound for the city. There is, however, still a fairly good service to towns and villages north of the town, even though the railway extension to Newport was completed around 1844 and further extended to Brandon in 1845. It was this section that met with the section from Norwich, thus completing the railway link between London and Norwich, via Stortford, Cambridge and Ely.

Stagecoaches did in fact operate for a number of years after the railway arrived, serving mainly rural communities. But with no specific timetable to indicate the service offered, as in pre-railway years, we can only assume they were infrequent. It will be noticed in the following list that some coaches are prefixed with a name: this may indicate the owner of that one particular coach, or that he also owned the coaches listed beneath. Names in brackets indicate the name of the actual stagecoach. Of particular interest is mention of the Royal Mail coach. This would have been the very last time an entry for the Royal Mail coach service between London and Norwich would appear, because it finally ended 14 June 1846.
Also apparent is the increase in the number of barges available to take passengers to London.

Nelson Coach to London from the George Inn
Coach to London (Royal Mail)
Coach to Bury St Edmunds (Marquess of Cornwallis) Coach to Cambridge (Fly or Telegraph)
Coach to Cambridge (Rocket)
Coach to Cambridge (Times)
Coach to Clare (Zauberflote)
Tredgett Coach to Haverhill
Coach to Holt (Hero)
Coach to Lynn (Union)
Coach to Norwich (Magnet)
Coach to Norwich (Royal Mail)
Coach to Norwich (Telegraph)
Coach to Newmarket (Prince Albert)
Low Coach to Saffron Walden
Ekin Coach to Saffron, Wisbeach

Railway to London

Carrier by barge to London
Jennings Hy Barge owner, South st
Miller, Benj Barge owner, Potters st
Miller,Joshua Barge owner, South st
Taylor, John & son Barge owner, Wharf