Our intrepid columnist Jan Fullwood explores the delights of the town’s market which has been trading since Medieval times
With the gradual lifting of restrictions it’s wonderful to see everything starting to slowly reopen and town centres slowly coming back to life. Hertford is in the throes of much change; the constant hum from the building site that was once Bircherley Green shopping centre promises great things to come. The Town Market has kept the centre alive at the weekends, nestled round the fountain in Salisbury Square, but Market Street itself, that cobbled curve of pavement behind Shire Hall, has been lacking the full impact of its namesake in recent months.
So, on the second Saturday of April it was good to see the familiar green and white stripes of the Farmer’s market back in their rightful place. Many market personalities were back: ‘The Cheese Lady’, ‘The Lamb Man’, ‘The Coffee Lady’, the produce stall and the Bee Society. It may not have been at its full capacity (mixed messages and last minute notice, or maybe just the chilly April weather), but it was a step in the right direction.
Hertford has a long history of market trading, with its Royal Charter dating back to the 14th century, and the town has rarely been without the hustle and bustle that brings. For a really fascinating insight, check out the recent talks on the subject by Sara Taylor, curator of Hertford museum: ‘Lockdown Lunchtimes #2: Hertford’s Moving Markets’ and ‘Lockdown Lunchtimes #1:The City Of Butchery Green’, which shows the colourful history of Bircherley Green in all its glory. Both are available on Youtube.
Peter Gear of Highbury Farm has owned the family farm in Wood End, near Ardeley, for 30 years and remembers many of these markets. He mentions the cattle market at Caxton Hill which was there until 1993, the poultry market which he recalls was situated near the fire station, and a cattle market behind The Ram on Fore Street, now The Dog and Whistle. These livestock markets are a far cry from today’s version, but nonetheless, he’s clearly missed Hertford’s Farmer’s market. His flock of 500 ewes provides a source of fresh local lamb as well as sheepskin products, wool and knitted products. They deliver meat boxes nationwide but I left with Sunday lunch sorted – lamb chops, destined to be served with some recently foraged wild garlic, and home-grown tender stem broccoli.
Next I stocked up on coffee from the buckets of beans sourced from all over the world, which Ellen of the Whitehouse Coffee Company freshly ground for me. Her partner, Charles, learnt his trade when he worked for Mitsubishi forty years ago and they sent him off round the world to source their coffee. Now he uses this wealth of experience to source and roast the beans to sell at local markets. During Lockdown, those desperate for their coffee fix “just emailed us”, says Ellen, so they were able to send a maximum order of 1750g by post for £6 p&p. But you can’t beat face to face for the full benefit of Ellen’s knowledge. She steers you between the choice of beans with their promise of chocolatey, nutty, citrus or caramel notes, and I went away with Honduras beans for my morning coffee. Contact email@example.com
The queue for the cheese was long as usual, but Mary of The Cheese Teller is also passionate and knowledgeable about her products. It was worth the wait to replenish my supply of Montgomery and Manchego. Mary and husband Filippo kept customers happy during Lockdown with their doorstep delivery service of the wonderful range of cheeses, sourced mainly from Italy and from artisan cheesemakers around the UK. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
I finished off by chatting with a lovely lady called Basia (Babs to her friends) who volunteers for the Hertford and Ware Beekeepers’ Association. She bought her husband a voucher for the beekeepers’ course for Valentine’s Day and hasn’t looked back since. Her enthusiasm for bees is contagious; she told me how you learn to gauge the mood of the bees and how some you can even stroke, almost like cats. We talked of the positive and negative effects of bee stings, and indeed many people had purchased the honey on sale to combat allergies and hay fever.
Treasurer Paul Cassidy tells me their courses are now online. Perhaps not so hands on, but it certainly minimises the risk of a sting. “And possibly most important”, the website proclaims, “the company of fellow beekeepers offers an opportunity to swap knowledge, experiences, ideas and inevitably tea and cake.” That’s my kind of incentive.
The market has a way to go before it’s back to its full strength, but for now it is back, every second Saturday of the month, so support it while you can and help it grow back to its former glory.