Changing Stortford: Retired Museum of London curator Mike Seaborne captures town's evolving landscape in new photographic exhibition at South Mill Arts
A new exhibition which documents the changing face of Bishop's Stortford through a collection of photographs opens at South Mill Arts on Thursday (Oct 28).
Photographer Mike Seaborne, a retired curator of the Museum of London who lives off South Street, has spent the past few years capturing the sights, with one particular theme being the areas of redevelopment.
He has compiled a collection of around 50 images, entitled Changing Stortford, which illustrate how the town is expanding and evolving, including a stunning 360-degree 'then and now' panorama from the top of St Michael's Church in Windhill, which at 15ft in width is too big to show in its entirety and so will be played on loop on a screen.
Said Mike: "The ‘then’ is the work of an unknown photographer in the early 1900s and the ‘now’ was taken by me in 2019."
Having made contact with Bishop's Stortford Museum's curator, Chris Lydamore, Mike was allowed access to the archives and discovered the old set of photos.
"I realised when I started to lay them out that they were designed to be joined together to form a 360-degree panorama. They were taken from the top of the spire on St Michael's Church and I offered to digitise them and stitch them together.
"I then got in touch with the church saying it would be great to rephotograph today and to do a 'now and then' comparison. It was a little bit scary as I had to go up the spire and I'm not great with heights, but my purpose overrode everything."
Mike moved to Stortford from London in 2008 and began documenting the town.
"I also developed an interest in Stortford’s history, especially its industrial past. I was fascinated to discover that it was once a major centre for the production of malt and that the creation of the River Stort Navigation (along with the River Lee Navigation) in the 1760s was directly related to the transport of malt to London. Further expansion of the town followed the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century.
"With the decline of the malt industry in the 20th century, the town has had to adapt to new social and economic forces. Today, there are two particular factors underpinning the changing face of Stortford: one is the development, from the 1980s, of Stansted Airport and the other is the increasing number of commuters to London.
"Further large-scale housing estates are under construction and Stortford has been described as ‘fast becoming a north-north London suburb’. The danger is that in the process it loses its identity as a distinctive place, and to counter this the town’s rich heritage, including its industrial past, must be remembered and celebrated."
Among the photos capturing these changes, Mike has focused on the developments of St James' Park at Thorley, St Michael's Hurst off Rye Street and Stortford Fields off Hadham Road, town centre construction including the former railway goods yard and the changing faces of high street businesses.
"I've tried to give an impression of the landscape as it was before and the landscape as it changes," he said, admitting that in his view, the town had not been developed sympathetically with its past in mind.
"Sadly, I don't think Stortford has done that or certainly not as well as Hertford, Ware or Saffron Walden. It's a personal view, but there was a missed opportunity to do something with the river, to make it a feature, as, since the 18th century, it's been the lifeblood of the town."
Access to the countryside is being pushed further out of reach. "The sprawl or expansion right out to the A120 means access to the countryside, which was one of the great benefits of being in Stortford as you were close to a rural landscape, is being pushed further and further away. All the new buildings are so generic too – the same houses as everywhere else."
The exhibition is due to run until Christmas.