Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hertford - Not a Dump

During the last two years I've become used to driving through drab, postwar housing estates, on my way to collect or deliver books. For some reason, I usually seem to end up in Bedfordshire or Hertfordshire. I've no idea why.

When I learned, last week, that I would have to drive to Hertford, my heart sank. More ring roads and concrete. More people who look as if they are on their way to a day centre.

But I was wrong. Hertford is rather nice:

The centre of Hertford had a very strong 'market town' feeling - lots of quirky old buildings, with hidden alleys and courtyards. I also noticed that the people didn't swing their arms when they walked, which is always a good sign.

Perhaps the woman in the distance is on her way to a day centre, but I'm sure they have a better class of jigsaw puzzle there.

Castles are always a bonus and this river ends in a pleasant weir, right next to an arts centre with a chi chi cafe.

I've forgotten who the statue is of. No-one I've ever heard of.

I noticed that several signs pointed the way to a place called 'Bengeo'. Bengeo! What sort of a name is that for a town and why haven't I heard of it until today? Even buses were going there.

It all sounds rather foreign - place names should end with a consonant. But apparently Bengeo is of ancient provenance, so I take it all back.

Bengeo's main claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Captain W. E. Johns - the author of the Biggles series of books, with titles that include Biggles Gets His Men, Biggles Takes It Rough, Biggles and the Poor Rich Boy and Biggles Fails To Return.

There are 98 Biggles titles in all, but no Biggles of Bengeo, which is rather a shame.

I liked what I saw of Hertford and tried to ignore the hideous car park and some of the less inspiring architecture on the outskirts. The centre would have been even nicer without the constant roar of traffic from the ring road, but the same could be said of most towns.

I went to Hertford expecting bland uniformity and concrete ugliness. Instead, I found character and charm. I hope I have the chance to make a return visit.


Martin Hodges said...

Glad to hear that Hertford was a pleasant surprise, Steerforth. Never been myself, but who knows, one day?

Debra said...

Where is Hertford, please ?
I must have told you that my daughter is in string instrument making school in Newark, Nottinghamshire. Newark looks a lot like your pictures of Hertford, and that is rather what I expect England to look like, as a nostalgic American. (Not like London, which I shun like the plague now.)
All of the above pictures could have been taken in Newark, but there is no uniformity in them, from my point of view.
Newark's Polish cemetery is one of its high points...
Thanks for the lovely pictures.

Canadian Chickadee said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your trip to Hertford. My husband is from St. Albans, and I've always liked the entire county. St. Albans with its cathedral as a memorial to England's first Christian martyr is a thriving place, with a cosy refectory cafe in the basement much used by locals. The park and lake with the Roman ruins of Veralamium are fun to walk around too. The Old fighting Cocks pub is nearby -- the oldest still-operating pub in England it's said. Right now, though, it definitely lives up the name of dump, so I'd look at the outside and give the rest of it a miss. Rob's family lived on the Harpenden Road and he was christened at St. Peter's Church -- no statue or plaque in his honour though! :)

Pam Parks said...

Great fun to visit your little villages and cities with you. I love England and love to see every bit of it, bad architecture or castles. It's all fun to me. And imagine finding the author's home to Biggles. I didn't realise there were so many Biggles book. Our second hand book store had some for sale but they aren't Penguin (there are some Penguin ones) so I didn't buy them. I don't think I have a Penguin Biggles.....yet. Enjoying your blog.

Annabel said...

When I used to live in Stevenage , we'd escape to nearby market towns like Hitchin, Ware and Hertford for relief. I seem to remember that there was a brilliant pub in Hertford where all the bikers went at Sunday lunchtime (Black Swan??) and the jukebox was wonderful in there. Never went to Bengeo though...

Steerforth said...

Martin - Hertfordshire is too far from the sea for me, but if you're passing on your way up north, the town is worth stopping in for lunch.

Debra - Hertford is about 26 miles north of London, as the crow flies.

Debra - How wonderful that your daughter's making stringed instruments! In my ideal world I'd have a job that involves working with music. It must be so rewarding to build something slowly, by hand, that will give so much pleasure to others.

Carol - I've never seen St Albans, but will make a detour if I'm in the area.

Pam - Glad you like the blog. I must admit I didn't know that there were 98 Biggles books until I checked yesterday. I suppose they weren't that hard to write, which is why there are so many.

Annabel - I've never been to Stevenage and probably never will, unless someone gives me a good reason for going there. The only people I knew who lived there hated it. It's a great pity that we seem to be incapable of building anything that's a patch on what the Georgians were capable of.

David Gouldstone said...

Biggles was very likely named after the reasonably nearby town of Biggleswade, in Beds. Don't go there expecting it to be as pleasant as Hertford, though - it's a dump.

MikeP said...

There used to be a couple of decent second-hand bookshops in Hertford. Now just an Oxfam shop I see, like everywhere else. But it's a civilised place.

Pam - there's only one Penguin Biggles, as far as I'm aware, Biggles Flies Again. It'll cost you a minimum of £300, so if you see one for much less, grab it!

joan.kyler said...

I wish town planners would understand that people need beauty and nature and quiet and complementary architectural styles. I wonder if we would be less violent if we were surrounded by calming, lovely places. I know I've had it with the noise and filth and violence of the city I currently live in. Why must everyone blow their horns?! In fact, why are there so many cars and so many roads?!

Steerforth said...

David - Biggleswade sounds like an imaginary place in a children's story, so I'm disappointed that the reality is so different. Thanks for saving me a wasted journey.

Mike - Yes, it's classic secondhand bookshop territory. A pity that shops like these are dying out. I suppose charlatans like me on the internet aren't helping.

Joan - I'm sure there'd be less violence and mental illness if cities had less traffic and more nature. The mayor of Bogota has produced some astounding results in a city that had once seemed beyond hope, simply by reducing traffic.

If I was a dictator, I'd have sheep grazing in Peckham and pass a law that said that nobody should be more than five minutes' walk from a green space.

George said...

When I was 12 or 13, a science class required that we read up on a disease of our choosing and give a presentation on it. One result was that we all became intensely hypochondriac for a week or so after the presentations. I mention this because a symptom of one of the diseases was that one ceased to swing the arms while walking.

Anyway, why is the absence of arm swinging (in a healthy population) a good sing?

Steerforth said...

George - Arm swinging in a vigorous but controlled "I'm taking a consitutional" manner is fine. I was thinking of the style that suggests that a person has some "anger management issues" and may not be entirely sober.

joan.kyler said...

I will move to your country as soon as you become a benevolent dictator. Please keep me informed.

Lucille said...

I have no further information about Bengeo despite being brought up in Hertfordshire but do you remember Bengo?

Steerforth said...

Joan - I think even more people would move out, once I started banning all the things that annoy me. I'd probably end up being deposed.

Lucille - Bengo was before my time, but I remember seeing him in a Blue Peter annual.

E Berris said...

I spent years at school in Hertford and barely recognised any of your photos - the Castle grounds were attractive but the Castle was closed to the public. We would walk through Bengeo, an area of small old cottages etc, and up to the wooded hillside The Warren. All Saints Church also had lots of interesting tombstones - anchors and angels etc. The Museum is well worth a visit and I seem to remember the Guildhall/Town hall/County court is also an attractive building.

Anonymous said...

Hertford is a bizarre place i lived there for two dull years, awful shopping facilities the nearest decent shopping is cambridge (which is beautiful) , lakeside or st albans. Property is over priced there are some beautiful places around but mostly awful generic housing estates and many council types. There are Very few decent family pubs in town, It does have many places to eat out aswell as coffee places and charity shops. The local park is nice although only a small play area for children , to sum it up i think hertford is nice if you are old or have plenty of money to dine out and afford the huge sums of money required to buy an average house. Move to essex or kent for better value , better shopping and better roads.

Anonymous said...

I am from Kent (West Wickham) and must say living in Hertford (and Bengeo) for the past 9 years has been excellent - Its called locally 'The National Trust Bubble' and with over 20 pubs 30 eateries (mostly independent) great schools I hope it also stays just as expensive to keep it this way! - Only one council estate and thats pushed out the way too! Good Fun and a great park with river/barges running through the heart. Just like a more expensive St Albans - Much better than ESSEX and only TW in Kent is on par but thats not got the communality feel (My sister lives there)!