Just A Moment

Ride the Ripples of Time with Lynda Bullock

Watford

Or more precisely, West Watford.  

 Where is West Watford? What are its boundaries? For the purposes of this history, I shall define the area as stretching from the High Street, bounded in the south by Hamper Mill, east by the River Colne and west by Rickmansworth Road and if we go back in time some considerable way and consult the maps and references that are available, we can see that most of the area was field, farm, meadow and marsh. At Hamper Mill, to the south of the area beyond Brightwells Farm, remains of a Roman villa and artefacts were discovered, including part of a trackway.  Further west, Iron Age artefacts were discovered during the construction of Greenhill Crescent.  There were two tracks/roads leading from Hamper Mill and Rickmansworth to Watford, early bridges over the Colne at Hamper Mill and in Moor Lane and at least five farms on the way to Watford. Tolpits Farm,  Brightwells Farm (at one time Hatters Farm), Holywell Farm, Cole Kings and Harwoods Farm. What is left of Tolpits Farm is now Tolpits House on a bend of the road where Moor Lane merges with Tolpits Lane and now belongs to Merchant Taylors School. Holywell, Cole Kings and Harwoods are gone and only Brightwells remains, which may indeed by as old as, or perhaps older than the Manor of Cashio. 

There was very little in the way of expansion across this area - in fact to north, south, east or west of the 'town' of Watford from the 12th to the 18th century. The 'one long street' then began to acquire yards and alleyways. In Briton's The Beauties of England & Wales, written in 1807, he describes Watford as a large, populous and busy town, the chief employment of its labouring classes being mainly agriculture, although there being three silk mills. The population of Watford is given as 3,530 and the number of houses 691. By 1850 there are two paper mills besides the silk mills, two breweries and several malt kilns. In 1851 the population is 8,646, yet twenty years later it has increased rapidly to 12,071.

One only has to look at the successive maps of Watford to see the rapid expansion of the town. In 1849, Watford is still more or less 'the High Street', although Watford Place, Colney Butts and the Union House (Workhouse) are marked.  By 1871 there has been much growth to the north, down towards the railway and to Cassio and Nascot Wood, but Watford Cemetery is now in evidence, Colney Butts has changed to the Red Lion and further south, down by the River Colne, Holywell is shown to be a country estate of some size. Yet either side of what is Vicarage Road, there remains much farmland and though Merton Road is in existence, abutting the High Street itself are still meadows, paddocks, orchards and close to where Market Street was later to be found, was a riding school. On the 1899 Ordnance Survey Map, new streets are now shown in the area between Watford Place; Vicarage Road, St Mary's Road, Market Street continuing towards Rickmansworth Road. The Watford Cottage Hospital came into being in 1885 and it is during the late 1800s and early 1900s that large parcels of land were being sold off and bought up for development.   Beginning in 1897, Messrs. Ashby and Brightman made a series of purchases from the late Earl of Essex, which resulted in Watford making even more rapid strides than previously. Where was formerly agricultural land, soon stood streets of shops, villas, and cottages. Messrs. Ashby and Brightman developed Callow Land Farm estate, Harwoods Farm estate, Cassiobridge Farm estate and also secured a large part of the Park itself. They made over seven miles of new roads and fifteen miles of paved footpaths. By 1920 the cemetery had been engulfed by housing. The Estate of Holywell was sold at Auction in 1887 and became a municipal farm. The Isolation Hospital in Tolpits Lane was erected in 1896 and the land from the River Colne, across what is now Holywell Estate and Croxley View as far as Cassiobridge became sewage farms. Scammell Lorries opened a factory in Tolpits Lane in 1922, 'The Holywell' as a housing estate came into being in the early 1950s with expansion across Vicarage Road towards the river following and Croxley View emerging in the mid 1960s.  Holywell Farm - or what was left of it - was eventually demolished.  Cole Kings, in Hagden Lane - a listed building - unfortunately suffered the same fate. Only Brightwells remains. 

There is quite a wealth of information about Watford, but much concerning West Watford has yet to be fully researched and documented.  I hope to be able to add information as and when I can, in conjunction with The West Watford History Group. A website for this new group is now up and running and topics are being added to it on a fairly regular basis. There are also a lot of photographs of the area. Meetings of the group are held once a month, on a Thursday in the West Watford Community Association building in Harwoods Road. See calendar on the website for dates. There are also talks by guest speakers. http://www.westwatfordhistorygroup.org/

In the meantime there are many resources available, including Watford Central Library which has a Reference Library and Local History archive and Watford Museum in the lower High Street.  The website of the North Watford History Group is also worth a look.  

 http://www.watfordmuseum.org.uk/

http://north-watford-history.org.uk/pages/the-area/