In 2017, a grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery Community Fund (followed by a second grant in 2019 which took the total to £2.5m) enabled East Herts Council and Bishop's Stortford Town Council to undertake an extensive programme of improvements at Castle Park. These include heritage, conservation, biodiversity improvements, new community facilities, and health and wellbeing activities.
The scheme has been project managed on behalf of East Herts Council by Hertfordshire County Council's Countryside Management Service, with recent consultancy support to oversee the café construction. It is on track to be completed by summer 2024.
Local consultation and collaboration have been key to the Castle Park masterplan, and residents of Bishop's Stortford and the Friends of Castle Park have been instrumental in helping to shape the detailed plans.
Improving accessibility and connectivity around the park has been a primary objective of the redevelopment. New paths have been constructed around the whole park establishing better access for users of all abilities throughout the year. They include a riverside path which improves visibility of the River Stort, a path along the eastern edge of Sworder’s Field to enable circular walks, and better placed paths around the war memorial.
Paths connect north towards Grange Paddocks, forming part of the cycle route (currently under discussion) which will connect the town centre with the surrounding area.
A new 4m wide bridge with fully accessible ramps and connecting paths has been constructed to better connect Sworder’s Field and the new events space in Castle Gardens. The bridge has been designed by the same architects as the Markwell Studio and the new café which is currently being built and the timber railings echo the wooden cladding on the buildings.
New public toilets will include an adult Changing Places facility which will enable more people to fully enjoy the park.
Interpretation through displays and information boards will enable everyone to understand and appreciate the history of Waytemore Castle. Better signage will help people access everything the park has to offer.
The Waytemore Castle motte (mound) is a medieval fortification which is over nine hundred years old and a significant historical site for the park and the town. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte and bailey castles were introduced into Britain by the Normans. They occupied strategic positions and dominated their immediate locality.
Access to this important historical feature has been improved enabling visitors to access the top of the mound via a flight of steps at any time. The hedge – which had no historical significance and was suffering with box tree moth infestation – has been removed and replaced with traditional metal estate railings. These will act as a deterrent to sledging or riding BMX bikes down the slopes. Walnut trees on the mound will be removed, following advice from Historic England, returning the motte to a prominent position in the landscape.
Wildflower planting in spring 2024 will surround the mound to create an ornate and wildlife rich setting. Lighting will bring the castle alive at night and help discourage anti-social behaviour. Carefully designed interpretation boards will allow people to visualise the past.
Protective works will help preserve the remains of the castle on the top of the mound.
he River Stort is a globally rare chalk river. When it was re-routed to its current position through the park in the 1960s, it was set into deeply sided banks that subsequently became overgrown with trees, shading out vegetation growth from within the river channel.
Over the last few years, trees alongside the river have been reduced by techniques including coppicing and pollarding, increasing the amount of light reaching the water.
Over the next year woody in-channel structures will be built that will create a variety of habitats by producing areas of faster and slower flow.
River banks have also been regraded to a more natural profile, giving more space for plants that typically grow alongside rivers. As water voles are now present in the River Stort, we have kept some sections of the bank steeper to give them places to burrow.
Himalayan Balsam, a non-native invasive species, was previously prevalent on the river banks. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers over a number of years, this has been greatly reduced, giving space for native species to flourish.
The new Markwell Studio was completed in September 2023. It was repurposed from an old disused public toilet which was falling into disrepair. The character of the old building has been retained and improved to reflect the architect’s design concept across the park.
The Markwell Studio is available for private hire by individuals and community groups for classes, events and meetings. It accommodates up to 60 people standing and 48 people seated.
There is a kitchenette and standard and disabled toilets, and an external drop-off space will be opened once the building works have been completed.
Completion of the new café and associated landscaping and community garden will offer a new community hub to the town. The strategy employed for the new community facilities was to re-use existing buildings where feasible, meaning a huge saving in embodied carbon which would have been lost if they had been demolished. Timber cladding was selected as an appropriate natural material for the parkland setting and new insulation significantly improves the thermal performance of the structures to future proof them. An energy efficient air-source heat pump ensures the environmental impact of the building is kept to a minimum.
The space can be hired by the hour on a one-off or regular basis via Bishop’s Stortford Town Council’s website.
A 60-seater park café will open in 2024 with a new terrace overlooking the castle mound. It will be situated in the old Markwell Pavilion, which is currently being completely redeveloped, using as much of the existing building as possible. Opening seven days a week, the café will provide a vibrant and inviting place to meet for visitors to the park and the town centre. It will also cater for community groups and events. The operators will be Charles and Sofia Erleigh who also run Smoke BBQ Kitchen in Hockerill Street.
Food vendors in the park and Sworder’s Field will continue to trade as usual, providing takeaway ice creams, coffee, and other light refreshments.
The area to the south of the cafe will be converted into a community garden for local groups to use and enjoy. It will be aligned with the building and new terrace so as to connect it with the café, and will include shrub beds and seating.
The area around the war memorial is being relandscaped to give the structure greater prominence and stature within the park and create a minimal but attractive reflective space. Newly paved paths have been installed that correctly align with the memorial, which faces out onto the newly created events space. This will ensure events such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday will have a much greater public capacity.
Access and visibility have also been created from the splash pool and from Sworders Field across the bridge. The smaller Masonic memorial has been incorporated into the design, as has the Victorian drinking fountain which has been relocated to the west of the war memorial and is being restored to working order.
Further soft landscaping is scheduled to take place following Remembrance Day 2023 so as to avoid any disruption to this event. Repairs approved by the War Memorials Trust will also be carried out to the memorial itself, although the Trust has advised against cleaning the memorial.
Three new high quality tennis courts were opened at Castle Park in July 2023 to the northern end of Sworders Field alongside the skate park and Grange Paddocks Leisure Centre. The new courts are wheelchair accessible with easy access from the car park and feature an upgraded playing surface in a calm and natural setting.
Accredited by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), they are managed on behalf of East Herts Council by Bishop’s Stortford Lawn Tennis Club (BSLTC). They are fully fenced with an LTA-funded “pay & play” gate which helps ensure the courts are kept secure and in good condition.
Some hourly sessions are available free of charge on all three of the courts and are bookable on a first come, first served basis. The remainder are paid for to help cover the cost of maintaining the courts. The charges are competitive with other providers and currently as follows:
- £6.50 per hour for an off-peak booking (Monday - Friday until 4pm and after 4pm on weekends)
- £8 per hour for peak booking
There is also the added option of paying £50 for an individual season ticket, which grants users access to the courts twice a week.
The expanded Castle Park skate park was officially opened in August 2023. The previous skatepark featured a small street skate run and an old metallic skate ramp. The street skate has now been expanded into a triangle, new ramp and a new concrete half pipe installed. New paths connect the different parts of the skate park. It was designed by a specialist contractor in consultation with young people who use the park. It is open 24/7, free to all and situated close to other recreational facilities including Castle Park’s tennis courts and Grange Paddocks Leisure Centre.
The Causeway Loop Channel around the edge of Castle Park is often referred to as ‘the moat’ though it has no historical significance to Waytemore Castle. While it exists for the adjacent road to drain into, it also forms part of the entranceway into Castle Park and has therefore become an important landscape feature.
The northern end of the channel is fed directly from the River Stort, enabling it to naturally hold water. A pump located close to the Markwell Studio, and installed by the Town Council, allows water to be pumped into the remainder of the channel. During the park redevelopment works, the pump has had to be turned off as electrical cables were being re-routed, and the channel has become overgrown in places.
During November 2023, a lot of the vegetation in the channel will be cleared out and the pump switched back on. To improve the channel both visually and for wildlife, a variety of native wetland and marginal plants will be planted within the channel and on the bank.
Among these will be coir rolls pre-planted with wetland plants that will come out in flower next year. Planted on either side of the channel, they will naturalise the concrete banks and narrow the channel to enable faster flow of water between the plants. On the banks, including in front of the Markwell Studio, wildflowers will be sown which can tolerate damper conditions and will create an impressive display in summer that also provides a valuable source of pollen for insects.
The improvements at Castle Park have been funded primarily via a £1.94m grant which was awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery Community Fund with contributions from East Herts Council and Bishop’s Stortford Town Council.
An additional £350,000 was needed to secure the project following price increases in materials and construction costs, archaeology and structural works. This was made available through the sale in September 2022 of three community centres to Bishop’s Stortford Town Council (BSTC), and match-funded by an additional Lottery top up grant of £600,000.
The Friends of Castle Park are a group of volunteers who spend much of their spare time helping to make the park a better place and increase usage of the park among the wider community. This includes:
- Conservation tasks supporting wildlife and habitats
- Community archaeology investigations
- Running events such as the Heritage Day, Wildlife Day and Bat Walks
For larger and more complex tasks, the Friends of Castle Park have joined forces with other volunteers supported by the Countryside Management Service.
You will also see volunteers regularly in the park from Hertfordshire Health Walks and from Park Run.
Castle Park & Gardens