Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire

Right stuff, White Stuff

“Ah, I know what that will be,” I thought to myself, looking up above a shop called White Stuff in the main street in Bishop’s Stortford. I was thinking that the building must have been a pub called the White Hart – a common pub name after all – and that I was looking at its former sign. Big 3-D signs like this are uncommon, but they do exist, and I was pleased to find another.

How wrong could I be? This magnificent beast is in fact the emblem of a volunteer regiment, the First Hertfordshire Light Horse. It was made in 1862 for the regiment’s barracks, but a few years later (some sources says in 1868, others 1872) the regiment disbanded. Major William Holland rescued the stag and had it mounted above the window of a shop he owned, where it stayed until the shop was pulled down in 1983.

Then the hart was restored and installed on this shop in 1986, where it has been ever since. It’s seriously large, this stag – it towers over the adjacent sash window, which must be well over 4 feet tall – and its shaggy coat is vigorously rendered. It’s an asset to the streetscape, a reminder of a bit of 19th-century history, and an object lesson in the way some features survive, as if truly alive and kicking, against all the odds.


Vinogirl said...

What a great piece of research you did!

Jon Dudley said...

Being born in this market town the stag was familiar to me as a child. The shop it guarded was Holland and Barratt (-ett?, -at, -et, can't remember which) not to be confused with the health food emporium of today. It was in fact a proper and quite high class grocers with separate counters for cheese, bacon, cooked meats and the like. I can still remember the fabulous mix of aromas as my mother took me in there on a Saturday morning - being firstly seduced by the smell of roasting coffee which exhausted onto the street. For an impressionable child there was a fascinating overhead cable operated change machine which involved the counter assistant placing your money and supporting bill into a small container, pulling a wooden handle, and propelling it to a wire cage in another part of the shop. You then took your change from the venerable old trout in the cage who also issued a receipt. After making our purchases we would climb the stairs to a gallery which commanded a view down onto the shop floor, and partake of wonderful coffee. This area was peopled mainly by small groups of elderly tweeded women whom I apparently christened 'the slow sippers', due to the inordinate amount of time they managed to squeeze out of drinking but a single cup. Bishop's Stortford was then an attractive market town with some gorgeous medieval buildings. It's been somewhat carved about now, but there are areas which still maintain the character I remember from the 1950's.

And that's what's so wonderful about your blog Philip - I never knew the why and what of the stag, so thank you for that and indulging me in a trip down memory lane.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Vinogirl: Thank you. Glad this blog is still entertaining you!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jon: Thanks for these wonderful memories. I too remember the smell of a "high-class grocer". I also remember these change machines, which are sometimes known as "cash railways". In the town in which I grew up (Cheltenham) there was a gents' outfitters (now there's another old concept – or two) which had a similar wire-based change system. I found out about it when I went to this shop to buy my school uniform. To my utter amazement, when we moved back to the Cotswolds 15 years ago, I discovered that the shop still existed and had upgraded its change system to a pneumatic version which I think is still in use.

I also recall that when I first went in Foyle's bookshop on the Charing Cross Road, it too had some kind of complex change-giving and receipt-issuing system, which certainly involved old trouts in cages, though I'm not sure whether there was a cash railway.

Finally, in Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, the change "hums on wires" in the draper's shop of Mr Mog Edwards. So these things are enshrined in literature, and students are no doubt having to have this stuff explained to them by old trouts and old geezers.

Vinogirl said...

Philip, I read it all the time.

E berris said...

Thank you for all these - I found your blog in "Homes and Antiques" mag.
Interested in Bp's Stortford inns - an important staging post from London both for passengers and goods. Carters then carried mail etc to outlying manor houses and villages.

Philip Wilkinson said...

E Berris: Thank you. Yes: coaches and wagons carrying people and goods often stopped at inns, which had stables for the horses as well as rooms for passengers who needed somewhere to stay. Usually on old coaching advertisements it will say that the coach arrives at or departs from such and such an inn. The carter (also known as a carrier) was a crucial part of the system. One of my ancestors worked as a carrier in rural Lincolnshire and was a much loved figure in the villages of, I think, the northern Lincolnshire Wolds.