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Wally Wright, 'eminence grise' of Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth local history, dies aged 97

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Wally Wright, well known historian and prolific contributor to and recorder of the history of both Sawbridgeworth and Bishop's Stortford, has died aged 97, writes Sawbridgeworth Local History Society member Theo van de Bilt.

For many years he was the ‘eminence grise’ of East Herts local history, and in the 1980s, with his late wife Doreen, he was the curator of Bishop’s Stortford Museum, which was then located in the cemetery lodge.

Born in Croydon, south London, in 1925, Wally trained as an engineer and came to Harlow in the 1950s to work for Cossor in development.

Wally Wright who has died aged 97 (57136722)
Wally Wright who has died aged 97 (57136722)

Through it all his enthusiasm and dedication were shared with, and encouraged and co-led by, wife Doreen. In the early 1980s their membership of Bishop’s Stortford Historical Society resulted in the setting-up of the museum.

Elizabeth Waugh, a recent arrival in Sawbridgeworth then, visited the museum and found a lively place, well organised with shelves for objects and papers and with volunteers cataloguing and doing other necessary jobs.

Wally had been visiting sites to be cleared, such as new roadworks, or refurbished houses, pubs or buildings in Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth and perhaps other nearby locations.

Doreen seemed to organise and catalogue, as she was less mobile, while Wally went out and about. The artefacts discovered still form part of the collection at the museum, now based at South Mill Arts centre.

Wally wrote and co-wrote many articles and contributed to several books and leaflets, including the recently reprinted and updated Explore Sawbridgeworth town walk leaflet.

He was generous with his time and help and vocal in his support for others. He was instrumental in setting up Sawbridgeworth's Millennium Walk boards, with accompanying leaflet, a project recently brought up to date through the introduction of QR codes.

In 2005 he re-edited The Story of Sawbridgeworth, still the standard work on the history of the town.

When Sawbridgeworth Local History Society was set up in 2016 there was no doubt who should be our president: Wally!

By then, age had started to slow him down, but he still attended many of our meetings and asked pertinent questions. Phone conversations with him were never short and always contained a few of those “never knew that" moments.

In the last few months Sawbridgeworth Local History Society was the driving force behind a town council initiative to honour residents who have made a major contribution to the town as honorary freemen and freewomen, with Wally as the first recipient. Sadly, he did not live to attend the ceremony.

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