How did the society evolve?
David Heathcote, an academic, historian and author who lives in Saffron Walden, initiated the idea in 2009. He recognised that he lived in an area that was special and that had remained largely unappreciated. Moreover, it was surrounded by large towns and the threat of ever more development. Because the area, and the threats to it, were spread over three counties and seven districts, nobody seemed to recognise the overall picture. David felt that the area should be recognised in some way. His idea took a while to germinate, but a group of volunteers gradually came together to form a steering group which moulded David’s vision into what we now refer to as the Hundred Parishes.
After much consideration, we drew a boundary where we felt the character changed. To the north, there is wide open countryside; to the west, settlement is more sparse and then there are larger towns; to the south, the pressure of London’s overspill has created urban areas; and to the east there is a gradual lessening of heritage intensity. In the centre, Bishop’s Stortford and Stansted Airport have very different characteristics so they have been omitted. The urban character of Bishop’s Stortford, much of it post war, differs significantly from the largely rural heritage of the Hundred Parishes.
The steering group met with all key local authorities and many other organisations, winning widespread support for the initiative. In June 2012 a “Constitutional Conference” was attended by delegates from more than 30 organisations and authorities. The conference endorsed the steering group‘s proposals to establish The Hundred Parishes Society.
The Society was established as a company limited by guarantee, the most common legal structure for non-profit bodies and charities. The members of the steering group were appointed as the first directors. A 1930s wood engraving by local artist Eric Ravilious was adopted as our logo and this is displayed at the top left of each website page. The Society was granted Registered Charity status by the Charity Commission in July 2014. Soon afterwards, the website was completed and the Society was launched, welcoming membership applications from households and organisations.
In 2018, the Society published a hardback book, The Hundred Parishes: an Introduction. All 800 copies have been sold. In 2022, a Hundred Parishes Facebook group was initiated by a Society member with encouragement from the trustees. The Society’s secretary regularly gives talks to local organisations. A number of grants have been given to support initiatives that are consistent with the Society’s aims.
How the Society develops into the future will largely depend on the Society’s members.