STANSTEAD ABBOTTS TODAY – THE VILLAGE

by Ron Dale


This web-site is visited by family history researchers and others in the U.K. and also in a wide variety of other countries spread across the world. It has occurred to me that a short word picture of the village as it is today may be useful to web-site visitors  who do not have the opportunity to visit  our modest but historical little village, which some person of no taste once described as he passed us on his river boat as a ‘One-horse  town!’  If you have clicked on Media you will find dozens of research stories amounting to hundreds of pages of history about our one-horse town from a wide variety of contributors, and we have over 200 pages in our village history book. As a Yorkshire-man from God’s Own Country I will state here categorically that I retired in Stanstead Abbotts 20 years ago and  would not wish to live elsewhere. Coincidentally, our chairman Ian also hails from God’s Own Country and he has also retired here. It can’t be all that bad!


SOME STATS ABOUT MODERN STANSTEAD (Details from 2011 Census)


     The rate of unemployment in Stanstead Abbotts is lower than the Hertfordshire average and the national average.

     The number of people claiming benefits of all kinds in Stanstead Abbotts is about 10% lower than the national average. (DWP statistics)

     A questionaire concerning health in the 2011 Census showed that more people reported ‘very good’ health, higher than the national average.

     The population of Stanstead Abbotts is above the national average in age and higher than the average for East Hertfordshire.


The village is surrounded by beautiful countryside with many interesting footpath walks and has its hills and woods for those who enjoy the fresh air. If you drive through on Sunday mornings you may have to slow down for horse-riders but the local gardeners do not hesitate to clear up the evidence. We have  a smattering of shops on the High Street and a cafė plus a good fish and chip shop and three local inns offer a range of meals.

     We have three fishing lakes plus the Amwell Magna trout fishery made famous by Isaak Newton. The R.S.P.B. Nature Reserve at Rye Meads attracts visitors from a long distance and has many wooden walkways and raised hides including the popular kingfisher hide. We also have  a sailing lake and the convenience of the rivers Lea and Stort for boating. And the local pharmacy is a very frtiendly business which delivers medication for the elderly and infirm throughout the village.  All things considered, not a bad place to live!


STANSTEAD IS STILL A VILLAGE


    Three places on the river Lea were once famous for the malting industry: Stanstead Abbotts, Hertford and Ware. Today we are the only village left in the area with a working malt-house, and for those who do not know, this is where barley is roasted and processed to help create flavoursome beer, malt whisky, malted biscuits, malt loaf, vinegar and other products. On days when the wind blows your way you will catch a whiff  reminiscent  of Ovaltine from the malting, which whilst not strong, soon becomes so familiar that you no longer notice it. There is very little industry in the village, resulting in a large section of the population being employed in London and becoming commuters. The High Street is no more than ten minutes walk from most housing and the railway station a maximum of fifteen minutes. This contributes to the ‘village’ feeling and most locally born residents would be insulted if you called our village a town of any kind. The rail journey to North London (Tottenham Hale) and the undergrtound system is around half-an-hour maximum.  

    Historically speaking, our village history has been dealt with in the village history book (available in the Village Pharmacy or through the web-site) and under Media on our excellent web-site (thanks due to the dedication of our web-master Brian Johnson), where around 300 additional pages of our history may be discovered. Here is a video, taped memoirs and a large selection of photographs.  However, our most important connection with national history is centred around the ruins of Rye House Castle which is about a mile downstream from the river bridge on the southern extremity of the manor. This was built in 1443 as a bijou castle with embattlements, moat and drawbridge by Sir Andrew Ogard. One of its claims to fame is that in the 16th century it was leased to a cousin of the Ogard family, Sir Thomas Parr. When he died, his widow Lady Maude Parr maintained a small school for her own children and their cousins in Rye House. Her daughter, Katherine Parr was educated here in our village and later became the 6th wife of King Henry VIII.  A claim to infamy follows the next appearance of Rye House in the history books when it became the planned site of an assassination attempt to kill King Charles II and his brother, James, Duke of York in 1683. Rye House became famous again from about 1850 to 1930 when it was transformed into an Entertainment and Leisure Centre by the enterprising efforts of William Henry Teale and his successors, owners of the inn next to the ruins. Here he installed the Great Bed of Ware, a fairground and beautiful gardens, a dance hall, a maze, sports facilities, fishing, boating -  all ideal fresh-air attractions for Londoners trapped in the grimy smogy streets of the Victorian capital.  He also brought a  railway station to his pub and his castle ruins and by sheer enterprise he created a site which attracted thousands of Londoners daily and on one Bank Holiday Monday he claimed 25,000 visitors. The small station at Rye House became the biggest draw of all the excursions in the southern counties. Today only the restored Gatehouse remains standing and the site is in the hands of English Heritage as a national monument of historical importance. The full story of all these events and many others can be read here on this web-site.

    Some of the houses in our High Street can be traced back to the 17th century with one or two earlier, but obviously they have more modern frontages for the shops. The village is home to one of the  largest missionary colleges in the  world, the All Nations Christian College at Easneye,  a Victorian mansion just outside the village at the end of a one-mile drive. Other impressive houses are Stanstead Hall, a large Georgian house in the High Street and Abbotts House in Roydon Road. Near the late 15th century Red Lion Inn at the corner with Cappell Lane is the 16th century boys grammar school, now known as the Clock House. About a mile outside the  village at the top of Cats Hill is Netherfield, once the home of Charles Booth, gin magnate,  and a little further on is the reputed site of the original Domesday village of Stanestede, where St. James, the old retired parish church still stands. This is undoubtedly the oldest building in the village, dating back to cirtca 1060 according to a recent survey. This has the most impressive house in the area adjacent to it, Stanstead Bury. It is now the private family home of Mr. & Mrs. Trower, but for about 300 years it was the manor house of the village. A new church, St. Andrews, was built in Cappell Lane in 1881.

The river Lea, which has historically been very important to the village malting industry when a steady flow of barges carried barley malt to the large London breweries, starts life near Luton in Bedfordshire, flows through the grounds of Hatfield House and on to Hertford, Ware and Stanstead Abbotts and eventually pours into the London Thames. Here on our bridge we have a picturesque view downstream of weeping willows dipping their tips into the water and colourful narrow-boats dotted around one of our two marinas. In summer the river brings many water-borne holiday-makers to relax near the wharfing around the bridge and topping up their supplies in our local shops. People passing by on the water may glance up and see through blinkered eyes only a one-horse town or even a one-street town and they see none of these fine buildings or anything of their history. Apologies for using a cliché, but there are none so blind as those who will not see.

       

Ron Dale, July, 2017


Stanstead Bury

St James Church

Netherfield House

Abbotts House

The Red Lion

Stanstead Hall

Rye House Gate House

Easneye Mansion

(Click on pictures to enlarge)