Busy and attractive, the Hertfordshire commuter town of Bishop’s Stortford simply oozes history. It lies 40 miles north-east of central London by road, with a fast train service to Liverpool Street station that takes a little over half an hour.
This ancient market town, with its landmark Corn Exchange overlooking the town square, was shaped by the River Stort, which provides residents with lovely riverside walks.The Saxons settled around a ford in the town, the Normans built a castle defended by the river, water mills powered flour mills and, in 1769, after the town’s major industry supplying malt by horse-drawn cart to London brewers went into decline because of the poor state of the roads, the Stort was made navigable. New canal basins and maltings were built, barges took over from the carts and the trade was rescued.
The town’s architecture reflects its history with period cottages, Victorian and Edwardian terraces and more modern houses. It is on the verge of major expansion, with 2,500 new homes planned north of the town centre and the possibility of another 550 in two developments around the train station and The Causeway.
What there is to buy in Bishop's Stortford
Justin Godfrey, of Savills estate agents, says the town has everything from two-bedroom period cottages selling for about £300,000 to substantial modern five-bedroom houses in the leafier roads for up to £1.5 million.
There is also a good selection of flats for first-time buyers in new developments close to the station that start at about £200,000. House hunters will find more expensive period and modern new-build houses in the villages around the town, but most buyers come looking for modern four-bedroom family houses that sell for between £315,000 and £625,000. The price per square foot varies between £350 and £450, depending on location.
Staying power: London buyers often trade up to larger houses in the surrounding villages.
Up and coming: Godfrey tips the modern detached houses in the Bishop’s Park and St Michael’s Mead developments, where four-bedroom, two-bathroom houses sell from about £550,000.
Travel: the M11 runs close to the town, giving access to London, Cambridge, Stansted airport and the M25. The Stansted Express provides a fast train service to London, with trains to Liverpool Street taking 38 minutes. Some commuters change at Tottenham Hale for the Victoria line. An annual season ticket to Liverpool Street costs £3,696.
Council: Bishop’s Stortford comes under East Herts District Council, which is Conservative-controlled. Band D council tax for this year is £1,512.57.
Renting: Bishop’s Stortford does not have a very active rental market. Available rentals vary from about £850 a month at the cheaper end and can go up to about £2,100 a month.
Postcodes: most of Bishop’s Stortford falls into the CM23 postcode, although the villages to the east are in CM22.
Best roads: the north-west corner of the town, close to Bishop’s Stortford College, and the period houses close to the station are the most desirable. Roads include Maple Avenue, Chantry Road, Avenue Road and Dane O’Coys Road. Justin Godfrey, of Savills estate agents, says houses in these roads are always in demand and often generate competitive bidding when they come to the market.
What’s new: Bishop’s Stortford is likely to see more than 3,000 new homes built over the coming years. At Bishop’s Stortford North, a consortium of builders — Bovis, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon and Kier — has agreed to build 2,200 new homes between the edge of the town and the A120.
The first phase of 857 homes, a new primary school, a community centre and sports pavilion starts on site soon. To the west of this site, developers Countryside has planning permission for 329 new homes.
In the town centre, Solum Regeneration — a joint venture between Network Rail and Kier — is hoping to build a new station and 450 new homes on the nearby railway sidings.
The long-running saga of The Causeway development, a £105 million new mixed-used development of shops, restaurants and 100 new homes, is still in the balance as developer Henderson Global Investors has recently decided to sell the site.
In North Street in the town centre, the former Pearsons department store is being converted into flats with restaurants — let to Cote and Bill’s, opening soon on the ground floor.
Birchwood Mews by Mullucks Wells (01279 704075) in Parsonage Lane, Hockerill, has been converted from a Tudor-style Edwardian mansion into 12 flats, plus five executive houses and five townhouses. The remaining flats are priced from £325,000, with the penthouse available at £799,000. Only townhouses remain, with prices starting at £465,000.
Photographs by Daniel Lynch
Shops and restaurants
Bishop’s Stortford has an extensive town centre along High Street, Bridge Street, Potter Street, North Street and South Street, with a mix of high street brands and independent shops.
The main shopping centre, Jackson Square, has Sainsbury’s, Argos, Clarks, New Look, Next, Starbucks and The Body Shop, among others. Florence Walk mainly offers independent shops — Mosaic and Blink are good for gifts, while Cura Apothecary has beauty brands such as Ren and Bamford. If you’re looking for furniture to kit out your new home, interiors shop Lathams Home will be the perfect place. There is also a general market on Thursdays and Saturdays, and a farmer’s market behind the Half Moon pub on Thursdays.
The Cross Gallery sells jewellery and artwork of a professional standard by people with epilepsy or learning difficulties as part of a scheme called the Jewellery Project, run by St Elizabeth’s Centre in Much Hadham.
For coffee lovers, there is plenty of choice in South Street, with cafés such as Coffee Corner and the South Street Pantry. Opposite them, Thirst Café is an imaginative take on a youth club.
Chain restaurants such as Zizzi, Prezzo, Carluccio’s and Pizza Express are represented, with branches of Bill’s and Cote opening soon. Host is a smart cocktail bar and restaurant in the landmark Corn Exchange building, with a rooftop terrace overlooking Market Square. A great spot for afternoon tea is Rosey Lea café and tea rooms in Market Square. It is close to Unico, an Italian restaurant, a few paces away in the converted Drill Hall.
Despite all the options, the Lemon Tree in Water Lane is the closest the town gets to fine dining.
There are lovely riverside walks along the River Stort. Sworder’s Field and Castle Gardens offer the old castle mound, a children’s playground, two skate parks and a newly opened paddling pool. There are forest walks, a lake with boats to hire and an outdoor café in the National Trust-owned Hatfield Forest.
Leisure and the arts
The Rhodes Arts Complex in South Road, which includes the Bishop’s Stortford Museum, is named after Cecil Rhodes, who was born in the town. The businessman was the founder of De Beers mining company and the African territory of Rhodesia. The centre puts on a varied programme of theatre, exhibitions, film, dance, music and comedy, while Empire in Anchor Street is the local multiplex cinema.
If you prefer to take a dip in the pool, Grange Paddocks Leisure Centre in Rye Street and Nuffield Fitness & Wellbeing Gym in Anchor Street offer a couple of options. Golf is a popular activity here — practice your swing at Bishop’s Stortford Golf Club in Dunmow Road or at Great Hadham Country Club in Much Hadham.
Three things about Bishop's Stortford
Why did Russell Brand find himself in Bishop’s Stortford?
The comedian briefly attended Hockerill Anglo-European College in Dunmow Road. The college is a top-performing state school that also offers boarding facilities.
Where did a mistake by map makers leave its mark on Bishop’s Stortford?
The River Stort is named after the town, not the other way round. In the 16th century, map makers assumed the town was named after the river that ran through it and marked it down as the River Stort, a name that has stuck ever since.
What connects Cecil the lion with former US president Bill Clinton and Bishop’s Stortford?
Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University between 1968 and 1970. Ill-fated Cecil the lion is said to have been named after Cecil Rhodes. The British mining magnate — who made his fortune in southern Africa, but who was born in Bishop’s Stortford in 1853 — left £3 million to Oxford University on his death, aged 48, in 1902. The money established the Rhodes Trust, which allows 90 scholars a year from the Commonwealth and America to study at the university.
Bishop’s Stortford has a good choice of state primary and comprehensive schools that are judged “outstanding” by the government’s education watchdog Ofsted. The primary schools are St Michael’s CofE in Apton Road, Saint Mary’s RC in Windhill, the highly popular Northgate in Cricketfield Lane on the north-west edge of town, and St Joseph’s RC in Great Hadham Road.
For comprehensive schools, there are Hockerill Anglo-European College (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Dunmow Road, which also has boarding places, Hertfordshire and Essex High (girls, ages 11 to 18) in Warwick Road, and Leventhorpe (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in nearby Sawbridgeworth.
The nearest private school is the all-through Bishop’s Stortford College (co-ed, ages four to 18) in Maze Green Road, while Howe Green House (co-ed, ages two to 11) is a private primary school in the village of Great Hallingbury. There are further private choices offering both day and boarding places — Felsted (co-ed, ages four to 18) near Great Dunmow, St Edmund’s College (co-ed ages three to 18), a Catholic school in Ware, and Haileybury (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) near Hertford.