This Saturday we attempt to get the season on track when we head to our near neighbours Bishop Stortford. The Wanderers will take on Bishop Stortford II and the 3rd XV start their season against the Peacocks at Davey Field taking on Shelford III.
Bishop Stortford is a quiet market town, in which nothing much happens. Except perhaps for the spate of arson attacks attacks that beset the town in 1825.
I believe this will be our 11th league meeting with Stortford, we played them in National 2 and since 2017 in National 1. They have often finished ahead of us. Indeed of the seasons we have been in the same league, they have finished ahead every year apart from our promotion year. The first fire was set in the White Hart on March 24 but was put out without loss of life. More fires followed including a carpenters shop and barn. On the 6th of April a citizen's committee was formed which offered a reward of £500 - a princely sum at that time. A few days later they were sent a threatening letter demanding the release of two poachers - or the committee would themselves be 'sent to paradise' by fire. With no local police force, the town turned to the Bow St Runners to investigate.
The last fire was at a drapers shop. Thomas Rees, a neighbour, was seen running away on fire. JJ Smith, the Bow St officer, realised that the arsonist had to have come from an adjacent property, and when Rees was spotted close to where the next letter was found - the suspicion began to mount and he was eventually arrested and sent to Hertford Gaol. An inspection of his house found boards had been removed from a shed - giving access to the drapers yard.
At the Assizes, Rees was found not guilty of the capital crime of arson, but - due to the stationers evidence - guilty of sending the letters and transported to Tasmania. As were both the two poachers he had tried to free. Had he been better at setting fires, he may well have swung.
The prison ship left Sheerness in December arriving in Hobart, Tasmania the following April, a year after his arrest. His time in Tasmania was troubled with spells on the chain gang for minor offences - but in 1831 he married Susannah Weavers another convict and was eventually granted a ticket of leave in 1841, granting freedom to live anywhere in Australia. He settled in Launceston Tasmania. In 1856 while on a coach journey on the mainland from Sydney to the gold fields he fell ill and died. He was survived by five of his 13 children and his pregnant wife. His final daughter was born six months later.
Stortford started their season with a trip to Plymouth. Featuring their new recruits James and Mike Ayrton, Stortford started slowly. Plymouth scored three tries all converted by Dan Mugford (it is a small world) to take a 21-0 lead. Stortford fought back to win 40-42. Stortford won a number of scrum penalties - which suggest our pack will need to be on its mettle and our defence will be tested. But there may be opportunities for points if we keep the ball.
Do make the short trip down to SIlverleys and cheer the boys on.