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Stortford town council buys tourist information centre

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Bishops Stortford general views. Tourist Information Centre. Pic: Vikki Lince
Bishops Stortford general views. Tourist Information Centre. Pic: Vikki Lince

Bishop's Stortford Town Council will complete on the purchase of the tourist information centre in Market Square on Friday.

Contracts were exchanged on October 6 and chief executive James Parker confirmed the deal will be sealed within 48 hours, ending negotiations which have been ongoing since the start of July.

Town council leader, Councillor John Wyllie, said the move protected the centre, which his authority runs, would help preserve an historic building and provide a long-term investment and income generator.

Cllr Wyllie said: “It’s an ideal part of the town for the TIC – right in the town centre, on the historic Market Square. This is beneficial for all the town.”

The building was owned by the London and Stansted Furniture Company with the town council and Nockolds Solicitors as tenants.

The law firm occupies offices on the upper two floors and Cllr Wyllie and Mr Parker agreed that the deal would be cost neutral or better in the short-term thanks to the rental income received from Nockolds and the savings for the TIC.

Mr Parker declined to reveal the purchase price of the freehold, but the deal will be revealed when the town council publishes its annual accounts.

However, estate agent Mullucks Wells, in Water Lane, marketed the property for £375,000 and said the two tenancies for office and retail use, over 140sq m (1507 sq ft), yielded an annual rent of £17,900.

It is already a matter of public record that the purchase has been part funded by a loan of up to £240,000 and balances held by the council.

Over the 15-year term of the loan, the council estimates it will save approximately £150,000 in rent payments and pay less than £30,000 in interest.

The TIC now offers advice, leaflets, souvenirs, holiday brochures for many parts of the country and many other services to both residents and visitors, but the site has a chequered history.

Between 1644 and 1810, it was home to the Reindeer Inn and became infamous in the 1660s with the arrival of the notorious Betty (Elizabeth) Aynsworth.

She ran the inn with her husband, Edward Aynsworth, after she was run out of Cambridge for pimping prostitutes.

She flourished in Bishop’s Stortford. According to Paul Ailey’s website http://www.stortfordhistory.co.uk, one contemporary chronicler wrote of Betty: ‘This famous lady has been carted out of Cambridge for a Bawd, then settled in Bishop’s Stortford and at length got into so good a plight as to entertain the nobility and foreign ambassadors between London and Newmarket, serving them in place with all the rarities desired’.

One of her customers – and more - was diarist Samuel Pepys, whose relationship with Betty, according to his journal, was more than friendly.

According to a footnote by Richard, Lord Braybrooke in his editing of Pepys’ work: “Elizabeth Aynsworth, here mentioned, was a noted Procuress at Cambridge, banished from that town by the University authorities for her evil courses.

“She subsequently kept the Rein Deer Inn at Bishop’s Stortford, at which the Vice-Chancellor and some of the heads of Colleges had occassion to sleep, in their way to London, and were nobly entertained, their supper being served off plate.

“The next morning their hostess refused to make any charge, saying that she was still indebted to the Vice-Chancellor, who by driving her out of Cambridge had made her fortune.”

Elizabeth was also implicated in the murder of Captain Wade at Manuden and although acquitted, attempted to throw herself in the river. She eventually died in 1686.

Her name also lives on locally as Aynesworth Avenue, off Stansted Road.

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