The town of Bishop's Stortford took its origin from, and has grown up around, the ford over the river, now known as the Stort. Archaeological evidence shows that the Romans had several roads across the area: Stane Street ran east-west, crossing the river Stort in the vicinity of the Town Meads (near today’s Sports Centre at Grange Paddocks), joining Camulodunum (Colchester) to Ermine Street (approximately the route of the present A10) near Braughing.
From c. 1060 when the town and its castle were sold by Edith the Fair to the (Saxon) Bishop of London, it became known as Bishop's Esterteferd. In the Domesday Book (1086) it is written as ‘Storteford’, hence the present spelling of Stortford. In the early 13th century the town became a pawn in the disputes between King John and Pope Innocent II. The King seized the town from the Bishop and ordered the destruction of the Norman castle in 1211 and then, soon after in 1214, had to pay for it to be rebuilt.
Bishop's Stortford developed as a small but thriving market town throughout the Middle Ages, achieving a population of 2,300 by 1801. St Michael’s Church (rebuilt after the Black Death in the 14th Century) and the weekly market reflected the area’s increasing prosperity. Famed for its hostelries, of which a few still exist, and for being a staging post on the mail coach routes between London and both Cambridge and Newmarket, the town's trade and wealth was enhanced by the opening of the Stort Navigation to London in 1769.
In 1826 the Corn Exchange opened, indicating the local prominence of cereal farming and the malting industry; the Stort Navigation underpinned this trade with the Capital. In 1842, connection to the railway laid the foundations for Bishop's Stortford's present importance as both a market town in its own right and as a favoured commuter area for the City of London. London Stansted Airport, just 5 miles from the town, originated from the extension of a local airfield by US Army Engineers in the 1940s.
Strategically situated in rural Hertfordshire, on the border with the county of Essex, the town’s population will eventually grow to 40-45,000 people on the Hertfordshire side of the County boundary with, perhaps, another 5,000 to 10.000 living in Essex, but looking to Bishop's Stortford as the natural centre for their shopping and leisure pursuits. Despite Stortford’s growth, the retention of over 90 acres of parks and open spaces, as 'green wedges' into the centre of the town from the surrounding Metropolitan Green Belt, has prevented excessive urbanisation. Although further growth is inevitable, both the Town and the District Councils are adamant that Bishop's Stortford will not lose its identity as a traditional market town in which the quality of life of its people is of paramount consideration.
To find out more about the fascinating history of Bishop's Stortford, visit this excellent Local History Site. Or why not pop into Bishop's Stortford Museum at South Mill Arts, 1-3 South Road. This is home to the town's artefacts and fascinating local history, all displayed in a modern, contemporary space with plenty of interactive activities for children including touch screens and dressing up box. You can also view an Extensive archeological and Historic Buildings Survey.
"Founded first by Alfred's son,
Sold by Edith, seized by John,
By King and Bishop lost and won,
I was named Esterteferd town"
Inscription on front of Nags Head Public House, Dunmow Road.