The town of Bishop's Stortford took its origin from, and has grown up around, the ford over the river, which is now known as the Stort. Archaeological evidence shows that the Romans had several roads across the area, at least one of which crossed the river in the vicinity of what are now known as the Town Meads.
Contrary to popular thinking, the name Stortford is not derived from the name of the river. The name may have arisen from the personal name, possibly Steorta (old English, Steort - tail), of a family or small clan who lived in the vicinity of the ford in Saxon times and perhaps controlled the crossing. From c. 1060, when the town and its castle were sold to the Bishop of London, it became known as Bishop's Esterteferd, which later became corrupted to the present spelling of Stortford.
In the early 13th century the town became a pawn in the disputes between King John and the Pope. The King seized the town from the Bishop and ordered the destruction of the castle in 1208 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 the year 1801. Famed for its hostelries, of which a large number still exist, and for being a staging post on the mail coach routes between London and both Cambridge and Newmarket, the town's prosperity had been enhanced by the opening of the Stort Navigation in 1769. In the middle of the 19th century, connection to the railway laid the foundation 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.
Superbly situated in rural Hertfordshire, on the border with the county of Essex, it can be anticipated that there will eventually be between 40,000 and 45,000 people living in Bishop's Stortford 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 the growth of the town, the retention of over 90 acres of parks and open spaces as 'green wedges' into the centre of the town from the Metropolitan Green Belt that surrounds it 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 at The Rhodes 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.