The Tanners Arms

The Tanners Arms public house is no more! Like so many of the pubs that once served Bishop’s Stortford’s population and visitors, it too became surplus to requirements in this modern age and closed for good in November 2012. A spokesman for the pub chain who owned it stated it was a result of the tenant having ‘a few problems’. That may have been so, though the underlying reason why so many pubs are closing, nationally, are all too familiar and need not be repeated here.

Built around 1850 alongside a former tannery (hence the rather obvious name) and first owned by one Joseph Whitby, its sign was the only one in Bishop’s Stortford to depict a trade coat of arms. McMullens Brewery of Hertford acquired the property in 1895 and in later years the former stable block to the left of the main building became part of the pub’s interior.

In January 2013 offers in the region of £350,000 were invited for the freehold of the Tanners Arms.

Tanners Wharf, the name given to the large swathe of land adjacent to the pub was once the site of a malting, productive enough in its heyday to warrant its own railway siding that ran behind the pub. When the malting disappeared is unclear but in the early 1900s this riverside site became the ideal home for a timber merchant – enormous open-sided timber sheds giving shelter to hardwoods of all descriptions, transported to and from the London dock by barge via the River Lea and Stort navigation.

in 1967 the timber yard became home and UK head office of timber merchant S. J. Atkins & Cripps Ltd established in 1852. But in 2003 the firm was prompted to sell the site for redevelopment. Transportation of timber had for years been by road, but new local regulations now made it extremely difficult for the very large trucks delivering the timber here. The firm moved to Ely, Cambridgeshire and in 2006 was taken over by Timbmet Silverman.

With planning permission for the vacated site granted in 2004, developer Allied Property and Leisure Limited began construction of Tanners Wharf – four apartment blocks comprising 130 homes – and Marriott Court, a complex of two office blocks. But in 2009, with flats and offices still only half built, Allied went into liquidation and the site remained derelict until 2011 when a new buyer took on the project. That same year, Tanners Wharf was renamed Q Apartments by new owners Cala Homes – the four apartment blocks altered to offer 90 homes.

County Bridge takes London Road over the Stort Navigation. On the river side of the bridge an inscription proclaims it was rebuilt and strengthened in 1913, but what it doesn’t tell you is that it is named County Bridge because the river at this point forms the county line between Essex and Hertfordshire.

A narrow pathway longside the bridge on the west side of the road, leads to the former towpath where the river’s course splits into two waterways. To the left is the Navigation route and to the right the river’s original course that led to the watermill known as South Mill. In the early 19th century Marshall’s barge building yard was situated on the opposite bank.

South Mill

Some 50 metres south of County Bridge, in London Road, another opening leads through a small woodland area to where South Mill once stood.

Water wheels were known to the Greeks during the 1st century BC and are thought to have been introduced to this country by the Romans for grinding corn. But it was the Saxons who developed their use in the 8th century, and at the time of Domesday Book (1086), South Mill and the Town Mill were just two of 5,264 recorded mills in operation throughout the land.

Old Bulls Head

Built in the late 17th century after the opening of the Hockerill bypass, this former coaching inn once boasted a fine open fireplace, part of a wall painting and seven bedrooms in which to accommodate travellers. Recorded as The Bull in 1735 it was altered in the 18th and 19th centuries and extensively modernised in the late 1960s. But Stortford’s dwindling pub trade has no room for sentiment and in early 2007 it closed its doors for the last time, reopening shortly after as a Thai restaurant named Baan Thitiya.

At the rear of the property runs the original course of the river Stort, now just a small tributary that continues under London Road bridge then once again joins the Navigation course.

Opposite the former inn is the aptly named Island Court, a residential development constructed in 2001. The name is derived from the fact that this small area of land is surrounded by two river courses – the old river Stort and the Stort Navigation – and residents here can rightly lay claim to being the only people in Bishop’s Stortford who actually live on an island.

Island Court is built on the former site of a second-hand car business which, prior to that, was the site of the Acme cafe – a transport cafe catering for the many lorry drivers and travellers that used this main route between London and East Anglia from the 1930s until the cafe’s demise around the 1960s.

For much, if not all, of that time the Acme cafe was owned and run by Charles Judd, a man whose criminal activities during the Second World War were well known to the local police and the courts.

Long before this, though, there stood here a small terrace of 19th century cottages named Duck’s Row, seemingly built in an idyllic spot alongside the river. It was indeed an enviable place to live in fine weather but when the River Stort was in spate, as it often was, the name ‘Duck’s Row’ took on a completely different meaning. Floodwaters would regularly enter the cottages by their back doors and, quite literally, leave by the front.

The cottages were also known locally as ‘bug hutches’, one former resident terming the regular lime washing of their exteriors as bug binding. Landlord Joe Brazier (See Guide 6) rented each home at one shilling and sixpence (7 1/2p) per week, but after enduring years of constant flooding the residents were eventually re-housed and the terrace demolished in the 1930s.