1st February 2020

The Bishop's Stortford Union Workhouse
by Bill Hardy

Bill’s talk began with the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, which placed a responsibility on every Parish to support its poor and destitute parishioners. ‘Poor Houses’ were usually established to house people in need.Some of these buildings still exist in the Bishops Stortford area, notably at Thorley Elsenham and Stansted, as very expensive residential properties.

The 1834 Poor Law established Unions of groups of pariahs. The Bishops Stortford Union straddled the Essex/Hertfordshire border. Each Union was required to have its own purpose built ‘Workhouse’ to house people without the means to house themselves. The Bishops Stortford Workhouse was of typical design with three blocks radiating from a central point, surrounded by six low rise buildings forming a hexagon. Conditions were harsh with men women and children housed in separate wings.

Bill had been involved in a project researching local correspondence with the Poor Law Commission at Somerset House. This involved the transcription of over 4000 records at the TNA. Bill discussed a number of examples. The collection may be viewed at

At the end of the Victorian period, the building became the Haymeads Infirmary.It was enlarged to accommodate casualties from the Great War and again in World War II. In 1948, it was taken into the National Health Service and served as a general hospital for half a century until services were centralised in Harlow. The site was then redeveloped to provide a small community hospital in new buildings.

The Workhouse buildings have been converted into luxury flats. A number of social housing units have been constructed in the surrounding grounds.

Report by John Young

4th January 2020

A Walk with the Admiral
by Richard Thomas

Local historian Richard Thomas took us through the history of a small, secluded area in Hoddesdon, where he has lived for the past fifty years. He has examined the records of the area from the thirteenth century to the present time. Rental documents in Manorial Rolls show it as grazing land on the marshy area on the west bank of the River Lea. The rent remained constant at 13s 4d per annum for several centuries. In the early seventeenth century, the New River was constructed to supply clean water to London.This runs along the 100ft contour to the west of the Lea, crossing two tributary streams to create a virtual ‘island’.It is accessed by a single road from the High Street.

In the nineteenth century, a Mr McKenzie bought the land to market residential plots, suitable for single houses. He named his estate ‘Admiral’s Walk’. The name was inspired by a retired Admiral who lived in a large house called ’Yewlands’ in the High Street. He is said to have regularly walked his dog down Upper Marsh Lane to the two rivers. But it may not be as simple as that.

The Admiral was Donat Henchy O’Brien who, as a young officer, served in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Later he published, in two volumes his story. He describes being imprisoned in France as a prisoner of war, escaping and walking to the channel coast, only to be re-captured. He then escaped again and headed for Switzerland only to be caught and returned to prison. After his third escape he was able to walk to Marseille and find a ship to bring him back to England. Once home, he resumed his naval career and was rapidly promoted. In all, he had walked for about 1000 miles across France.Perhaps it was this epic walk that is commemorated in Hoddesdon, not his exercise with his dog?

Although the development started slowly, it eventually grew into a thriving community, with many, like Richard, living there for a very long time.

Report by John Young

Return to Branch Page

© Copyright  Essex Society for Family History

You are visitor number 2,281,960 since 15 February 2001