Stanstead Abbotts is a sub-district of Ware in the southeast corner of Hertfordshire. The Greenwich Meridian (longitude 0°), an imaginary line between the North and South Poles separating the eastern and western hemispheres, passes through the village. Its exact position marked by Meridian obelisks that were planted in 1984 to commemorate the centenary of the adoption of the prime meridian line. This was measured by Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy, in 1851 and finally adopted as the International Time Line at a conference in Washington, DC in 1884. The meridian marker post shown on the right is sited in Station Road beside the bridge over the New River. As well as being the line from where all navigation is calculated it is the line from which all time on earth is based. The current line is one of many that have existed, however the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system uses a prime meridian that is about 100 metres east of the Greenwich Meridian at Stanstead Abbotts. 

In recent years the village was awarded the title "Best kept village in Hertfordshire - large village" which if nothing else establishes that it is a "large" village. The population has grown steadily during the past decade and now hovers around the 3000 mark. Recent housing developments along and near the River Lea account for most of the increases.

There are a number of areas nearby officially designated, 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest' (S.S.S.I.). Two of these are Amwell Quarry Nature Reserve and Rye Meads near Rye House. Both these sites support a significant population of varied wildlife and are highly regarded for the number of bird species they attract.

The High Street has a significant number of "listed" buildings that add character to the area. Until the mid 1980's the narrow High Street was part of the old A414. This meant that a lot of heavy transport passed through the village making it a potentially dangerous place to be a pedestrian. The opening of the Stanstead Abbotts by-pass improved the situation considerably and being a High Street pedestrian is now quite enjoyable and no longer equates with the role of a Kamikaze pilot.



The High Street has a reasonable number of small shops that can provide most of the basic day to day necessities of life, though not much more than that (except for a good motor bike shop). There used to be a bank that opened one day a week but that closed years ago. Pretty much one of each essential, not exactly a competitive environment, but standard for a village I guess. For any serious shopping the nearest option, though not necessarily the best, is Harlow. Many years ago nearby Hoddesdon used to provide a reasonable selection of shops but like many smaller English towns the number of retail outlets has declined following the growth of large of out-of-town shopping centres.

There are two restaurants in the village, one Italian the other Indian, plus one takeaway. Many will be grateful though, that like the majority of English villages, it has a satisfactory although declining provision of reasonable public houses, The Lord Louis, The Red Lion and The Jolly Fisherman. The latter is the youngest pub in the village, celebrating its centenary in August 2003. It is sited by the side of the River Lea next to Riverside Green and is a welcome sight for visitors arriving by boat or the Lea towpath.

Industrial History

In the Middle Ages the local area, in common with the rest of Hertfordshire, was heavily forested. The clearance of woodland supported the industry of charcoal burning which was not merely for local use but was, perhaps surprisingly, also exported. It was said that you knew when you were approaching Stanstead Abbotts by the continuous sight and smell of wood smoke. This industry lasted through until the end of the 18th century. The most enduring local industry however is that of malt production. The fertile soil in Hertfordshire and neighbouring counties to the north and northeast produced abundant quantities of high quality barley that could be turned into the finest malt. This Hertfordshire grain could be sold at a premium at market and some unscrupulous dealers made a profit by falsely selling their grain as the Hertfordshire article. Packhorses were used for moving the grain from the farmland to the malting towns of Hertford, Ware and Stanstead Abbotts sited along the River Lea. Their strategic location between the fertile growing areas and London combined with the benefit of a navigable waterway to London led to a flourishing local malting industry. The River Lea provided a far more efficient means of transporting large quantities of malt to the major breweries of London than the alternative of packhorses. Bishops Stortford also had a malting industry but the trade did not expand greatly there until the completion of the Stort Navigation Canal in 1766.

The malting industry declined over a long period until today just the one malting of French & Jupps remains in Stanstead Abbotts. Today, no maltings exist in Ware or Hertford. Although many of the maltings have been demolished it is good to see that some of the malting buildings still exist. Some of these are now divided into smaller units and are used to provide accommodation for light commercial users. These are attractive looking buildings that are in keeping with their surroundings. It is pleasing to see them being used rather than pulled down to make way for more of the residential developments that have cropped up in the last decade or so, that are often visually unsympathetic to the local environment. The exception to this is the old Abbey Malting, gutted by fire about twenty years ago, which has since been re-modelled into attractive riverside homes that maintain the original character of the malting.

Today there are a varied range of companies operating from the redundant malting premises around the village but their presence is probably not too obvious to the casual visitor. It appears to be a good example of how commercial premises can be integrated into a village environment. As well as providing employment these companies are also helping to preserve these fine old buildings that would otherwise fall into decay and their eventual demise.




Copyright © 2002-2005