Bishop’s Stortford has all the advantages of a rural market town — beautiful surrounding countryside, good schools and a strong sense of community — and yet it is still an easy commute to London, especially to the City, with trains terminating at Liverpool Street and the M11 hitting the capital on its eastern edge.
Some 35 miles north of London, Bishop’s Stortford is in Hertfordshire but close to the border with Essex. It has been a thriving market town since the Middle Ages and was a major centre of the malting industry.
It received a boost in 1769 when notable local Sir George Jackson opened the Stort Navigation which connected the River Stort to the River Lea with a series of 15 locks, enabling Bishop’s Stortford to become the major supplier of malt to London’s brewing industry.
The town received another burst of growth after the arrival of the railway in 1842 when its incarnation as a commuter town began.
Its largest expansion came after the Second World War, with two house building booms in the Fifties and Sixties and then in the Eighties and Nineties. The population grew from 13,000 in 1952 to 35,000 in 2001, with a further expansion of 10,000 planned.
What there is to buy in Bishops's Stortford
Bishop’s Stortford is a good place to find modern family houses on well-kept estates, but there are also two- and three-bedroom Victorian cottages and new flats beside the River Stort in the centre of town.
There are period properties in the surrounding villages; the most sought-after are Much Hadham, Hatfield Broad Oak, Braughing and Manuden, which has a particularly popular primary school.
The most expensive home currently on the market is in Lime Park, a short walk from the station on the eastern side of town, where estate agents Savills (01279 756800) is selling a five-bedroom modern house for £1.5 million.
The area attracts: families from London come to Bishop’s Stortford for the good schools — both state and private. Edward Meyer, from estate agents Savills, says that 70 per cent of his buyers are London commuters mainly working in the City. There is also a strong demand for rental homes from workers at nearby Stansted airport.
Staying power: Meyer says Bishop’s Stortford is one of the first properly rural towns that city commuters discover once they have made the decision to move out of London, and they like to put down roots.
Best roads: the best roads are in the north-west and south-east corners of town. In the north-west there are big family houses in Hadham Road and Maze Green Road close to Bishop’s Stortford College. In the south-east, there are large Edwardian houses in Warwick Road, Avenue Road and Crescent Road close to top girls’ comprehensive, the Hertfordshire and Essex High School.
What’s new: further expansion of the town is planned, but there are currently no large new developments on the market. Niche developer, The Door, is selling The Emery in Chantry Road, the conversion into 14 flats of a large Victorian house with prices starting at £375,000 for a two-bedroom property. For details contact Fine & Country on 01279 757500.
Which areas might make the best investment
Edward Meyer says the two- and three-bedroom Victorian houses in the centre of town, which sell for around £200,000, still offer great value.
Getting an Education
Education is one of Bishop’s Stortford’s strongest attractions. There is a wealth of good state schools and an all-through (ages four to 18) private school, Bishop’s Stortford College, where the students take the International Baccalaureate instead of A-levels.
The following primary schools are judged outstanding by government education watchdog Ofsted: St Michael’s CofE in Apton Road, St Joseph’s RC in Great Hadham Road, Northgate in Cricketfield Lane, Summercroft in Parsonage Lane and Manor Fields in Penningtons.
Three of the five comprehensive schools are judged “outstanding”: Hertfordshire and Essex High School (girls), Bishop’s Stortford High School (boys) and Hockerill Anglo-European College (mixed), which has boarding as well as day pupils. Bishop’s Stortford’s girls have a tradition of wearing long plaid skirts as part of their uniform, which gives the town a pleasantly old-fashioned feel as the schools empty out in the afternoon.
Shopping and eating out
Shopping is not one of the town’s strengths, but there is a large Waitrose on Link Road and an independent department store, Pearsons, in North Street, with boutiques in the little arcade off it, Florence Walk.
Jackson Square the shopping centre is dominated by value-for-money chains such as Wilkinson, Peacocks and New Look. However, Meyer says North Street is fast becoming the best shopping street, with recent openings including White Stuff and Café Rouge.
Host is a restaurant and bar which occupies a prominent central site in the classical Corn Exchange building at the end of North Street, with a large terrace at first-floor level. Lussmans is a restaurant which puts on top jazz nights and has a terrace overlooking the river.
Popular local country pubs include the Fox and Hounds at Hunsdon, Jamie Oliver’s father’s pub the Cricketers at Clavering and the Duke’s Head at Hatfield Broad Oak.
The Castle Gardens, where the remnants of a Norman castle in the form of a castle mound can be found, is a pleasant open space leading to walks along the River Stort.
Leisure and the arts: the Grange Paddocks leisure centre in Rye Street is where the town’s council-owned swimming pool is found; the Anchor Street leisure park has a cinema, bowling alley and restaurants. The Rhodes Arts Complex is named after Cecil Rhodes, the Victorian empire-builder. Netteswell House, which is part of the complex, is his birthplace.
The centre puts on touring drama productions, films, dance, music and comedy shows. It also houses the town’s museum and art gallery.
The train from Bishop’s Stortford to Liverpool Street takes between 37 and 51 minutes and an annual travel card costs £3,380 (or £3,100 for journeys arriving at Liverpool Street before 7.15am or after 9.15am.
East Herts District Council is Conservative controlled. Band D council tax for 2011/2012 is £1,497.81.
Buying in Bishop’s Stortford
Renting in Bishop's Stortford
Source: Russell Property Partnership
Photographs: Matt Writtle