Ware - The Story so Far 3 of 3
The manor of Ware was eventually restored to Hugh's great-granddaughter, Petronil or Parnel, who was married to Robert Beaumont, EarI of Leicester. It was Petronil, and her son, Robert, who at the end of the 12th century laid out the town centre as we know it. Using the priory as a sort of pivot, they diverted the course of the old road so that it ran parallel with the river for about half a mile and then crossed the Lea at a new bridge, much farther to the east than the old one. The new High Street they created was wide enough to accommodate a market, shops and a fair. An added bonus was that a number of attractive 'burgage plots' were created between the road and the river, designed to be sold or let to burghers, or free merchants. The new town layout and diversion of the old road were given official recognition during a visit by Henry lll, who declared that the new bridge formed part of the King's Highway. Royal charters for a market and an annual fair were granted at about the same time, as well as charter for the tolls of all ships going down to London from Ware Bridge and all vehicles crossing the bridge.
However, the new arrangements did not pass without opposition. One of the records of the time states that 'the bailiff and men of Ware have turned aside the way that used to pass by Hertford to Ware to the detriment of the town of Herford'. Official recognition or not, Hertford could not let this pass, and its bailiffs acted by putting a chain across the new Ware bridge. This happened when Sayor de Quincey, Petronil's son-in-law, was Lord of the manor. The story has it that Sayer broke the chain and threw it into the river telling the bailiffs that they would follow it they tried to repeat the exercise. Since Sayer de Quincey was Earl of Winchester and one of the barons who made King John sign the Magna Carta, the men of Hertford did not repeat the exercise, but Hertford went on grumbling for many years afterwards about Ware's new prosperity.
Ware was situated on the Old North Road, the main thoroughfare of medieval and Tudor England from London to York and Scotland. In the centuries following the Norman Conquest, the main traffic on this road was military, but in about 1400, the people themselves began to move more freely around England, either for trade or on that medieval equivalent Of tourism, the pilgrimage. Ware is mentioned in the most famous account of a pilgrimage, Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales', as being the the town from which the cook originated, and Ware was itself on the other main pilgrimage route, to the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Walsingham in Norfolk. One Tudor writer said that the road through the town was known as 'Walsingham Way'.
To serve these pilgrims and travellers, virtually every building in Water Row (the south side of the High Street) was an inn at some time during the period from 1400-1700. There were other inns in Land Row and Baldock Street, as well as a few in Amwell End, but it was the inns of Water Row that were 'great and sumptuous hostelries', as described by Raphael Holinshed. The most important were the Crown, the White Hart, the Christopher, the Bull, the George and the Saracen's Head. The inns have long since been converted into shops, but the waggonways, which are a feature of the High Street, remain as reminders of the great inns of the past. No wonder the Tudor poet, William Vallens, described his home town as 'the guested town of Ware'
What led to the disappearance of the inns was another thriving Ware industry, malting. The passage of waggons bringing barley into the town for malting made the roads almost impassable for much of the winter, with the result that, in 1663, England's first turnpike was set up at Wadesmill, in an attempt to control the malting traffic. Immediately, travellers began to find alternative routes. Before 1663, Samuel Pepys travelled to Cambridge by way of Ware - often complaining about the state of the road, particularly when he had to get down from the coach and fell into a ditch - but after the erection of the turnpike, he preferred to go via Bishop's Stortford. Others went by way of Hatfield, on what became known as the Great North Road.
In an attempt to attract what was left of the coaching business, the Ware inkeepers offered new facilities. Riverside gardens were laid out with summerhouses, or gazebos, for the enjoyment of their guests. In addition, any visitor who wished to stay in an inn containing the Great Bed of Ware was treated to an elaborate and bawdy ritual. In their time, a number of Ware inns housed the Great Bed, which is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It is thought to have been made as a sort of advertising gimmick for the Ware inns.
The matting industry dominated the life of the town from the 17th century, and Ware could justly claim to be the premier malting town in England. What gave malting in Ware the edge over other centres was its position between London and the barley-growing counties of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and also its situation on the River Lea with easy transport by barge to London. One of Ware's specialities in the early years was brown malt - a malt which had been cured at a high temperature over a wood-burning kiln - and this became the main ingredient of 'porter' or 'entire', the main drink of London's labourers during the 18th century. Brown malt earned Ware its superiority and its own quoted price on the London Corn Exchange. There are many former malthouses in the town, now converted to other uses, and the last working malting, Paul's at Broadmeads, was a thoroughly modern, computerised plant. However, that too closed, in January 1994, thus bringing to an end the 600-year-old malting industry for which Ware was once famous.