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Oral history and Bishop’s Stortford Part I – Bishop’s Stortford Oral History Archive

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Bishop’s Stortford Museum oral history project is made up of three elements:

  • An ongoing project preserving and digitising the backlog of recordings from the Rhodes Memorial Museum and the Bishop’s Stortford Local History Museum.
  • The making of an archive relevant for future generations by interviewing local residents on contemporary topics.
  • The New Police project: The creation of new recordings on specific topics.

Since 2012 we have more than 40 testimonies by local residents, some who sadly are no longer with us. We were also left with a backlog of approximately 100 local history interviews that we are currently processing. We have also been through the process of digitising more than 120 snippets of Talking newspaper interviews from the 1970s to 1990s; these include looking back at past events covering various topics from the memories of fire fighters, to how schools were run, how hospitals used to grow cucumbers and the preparation of local events such as Carnivals.
Working on Oral History archives involves undertaking many different roles that were performed by our volunteers and members of staff, such as interviewing, recording, editing, transcribing, archiving and documenting.

To make our Oral history archive contemporary, last week (14th October 2014) we recorded local historian Kate J Cole who came and told us about her first book ‘Bishop’s Stortford Through Time’ featuring vintage postcards of the town to show ‘now and then of Bishop’s Stortford’. The interviewer was Carolyn Downing, museums’ volunteer who is also a co-author of the museum’s latest publication Bishop’s Stortford in the First World War. The museum’s staff was there to record the inspiring exchange of the vast knowledge they shared.
Below we are happy to present you with a few excerpts from the interview in the form of a conversation rather than a question-answer format:

Carolyn: …Apart from newspapers, where else did you get your information from?

Kate: One of my major sources, it sounds quite surprising but it was quite fruitful: I walked and I walked the whole of Bishop’s Stortford countless times and, from that, what surprised me there, all over the Town is, I suppose you’d call it, street furniture, plaques with dates … it was quite surprising, but walking the Town was the major source.

Carolyn: So the street furniture we’re talking about is like the stone at the bottom of Jackson Square that says that there was a Mill there.

Kate: Exactly, it was all the stones.

Carolyn: The River was very important to the Urban District Council because, when I was looking through the local paper, one of the things that came up, pretty regularly, at Urban District Council Meetings was that the reeds were getting too, too much in the River and they wanted somebody to come and do something about it, either the people who ran the canals or whoever, but they needed something done about it because it was making it dangerous.

Kate: Yes, it’s so important and also the local newspapers talking about children falling in the River and such-and-such was missing but turned up in the River… I think, again, you don’t realise that until you actually walk the Town.

Carolyn: Because people have forgotten how important things like rivers and railways and canals were.

Kate: Exactly, in keeping commerce going.

Carolyn: …and the roads were obviously important and thinking back in history, I don’t know whether you’ve covered it, but certainly Charles II used to go through here on his way to Newmarket.

Kate: Yes and I don’t know if it’s true but I have heard that the higher London Road was built because he kept on getting wet going through the middle of the Town and that’s why they built the road higher up… and he also didn’t like the smell. It must have been very stinky around the market and around the Church … one thing I did find very interesting with Charles II was I found in the Church Warden’s accounts, the bell-ringers, whenever he came through the Town, they must have been ringing furiously because they were being paid incredible sums of money.

Carolyn: Really?

Kate : Yes, it was pounds of money …an awful lot of money when an average wage was possibly two old pence.

Carolyn: So what else have you looked at?

Kate : The Church Warden’s accounts I did look at quite a lot. I consider myself to be, a Tudor historian, so I spent a lot of time looking at Church Warden’s accounts and trying to see what we can get out of them and what was going on in Bishop’s Stortford.

Carolyn: So, back to your book, what other areas have you covered? What have you looked at specifically? I know you’ve used postcards as part of your research, but what areas of the Town have particularly interested you?

Kate : I was given a very fixed format of what I had to write, so I knew I had to get postcards of areas that I wanted to cover which wasn’t possible in every single circumstances… I got very interested in the water fountain in Hockerill and I think one of the reasons why is because I’ve seen it so many times and then to actually start working out all the pubs were and what’s missing and where the water fountain had gone.

Carolyn: in the middle of the road…

Kate : Exactly and it did occur to me that, although they moved it out of the middle of the road, they should have actually moved the Cock Inn out of the middle of the road because, when you come up out of Bishop’s Stortford, you do have to swerve round it, so with the water fountain, if it was still there, I could imagine it would have caused quite a few accidents for today’s drivers, but, of course it went in the 20’s and it was moved then, but that interests me and again it interested me that there was a woman behind the water fountain.

Carolyn: Countess of Warwick, Trishan Gilbey’s Annie, they’re definitely there.

Kate : Yes they are.

Carolyn: What else did you find?

Kate : Oh, Cecil Rhodes of course and his father who was responsible for a lot of happenings in Bishop’s Stortford because he was the Reverend.

Carolyn: Did you know he wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury to get permission because he wanted to split the Parish, even though he was the Rector, he couldn’t just do that, so he wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury to get permission to split the Parish between Newtown where the workers were and up at Hockerill where obviously the more, the upper classes were starting to get around and so he got permission to do it: there are actually papers in the archives at Lambeth Parish.

Kate : So he obviously had friends in high places.

Carolyn: I assume he was from quite a good family and he knew what to do.…

Kate : One of my other people to look at with the Stort navigation was Mr Jackson who was very important of course. He changed his name, which, when you’re walking around the Town, you do see, and this is another reason for walking around the Town, because you do see names coming through, so you will see Jackson’s name, the most recent Pub being called the ‘Port Jackson’ after him. You’ll see his other name too, which was ‘Duckett’ and you’ll see that all over the place as well. There is a woman behind why he was called ‘Duckett’.

Carolyn: Right!

Kate : In his later life, she was his second wife and I think he was quite old then, but he married again to inherit her uncle’s vast fortune, he had to take on the name ‘Duckett’, so, when you walk around Bishop’s Stortford, if you see Jackson or Duckett you know it’s the same person…Bishop’s Stortford is seen as a commuter town and it’s nice that the people who see it as a commuter town also know it as a historic town as well.

Carolyn: Because there’s a lot of history here…

If you wish to find out more you can get all the details in Kate Cole’s latest book. You can also catch Kate at her blog tour “all things history”, along with explanations about her recent book Bishop’s Stortford Through Time, on the following dates and sites:

About Kate Cole
Kate has an MSt in Local and Regional History (Cantab); a BA History (Open University) and an Advanced Diploma in Local History (Oxon) – all gained as a mature student. Having been a business technologist in the City of London for the last 30 years, she is currently taking time away from her City career to write. Her first history book, Bishop’s Stortford Through Time, was published by Amberley Publishing in September 2014.

She lives in Essex, England, and regularly writes about the local history of Essex and East Anglia on her blog, Essex VoicesPast.

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