The Rickmansworth to Watford Railway
October 2012 would have seen the 150th anniversary of the Rickmansworth to Watford Railway. Alas the route, as a rail service, was closed and exists today as "The Ebury Way", named after Lord Ebury*. There is an excellent book, illustrated with old photographs entitled "West of Watford" by F.W. Goudie & Douglas Stuckey which details the history of the line, beginning first with the Rickmansworth to Watford (Met) branch and then the Rickmansworth to Watford (High Street) line. It includes the beginnings of the project, the discussions, the proposed Bills, the delays, the selling of shares to raise funds etc., etc and is definitely worth a read (if you can get hold of a copy!). Here I am concerned mainly with the line from Rickmansworth to Watford High Street and shall try and put the main facts into a shorter, but just as readable history.
Between 1852 and 1880, two main rival companies - the GWR and LNWR - had surveyed routes to Amersham either out of London, through Rickmansworth or Watford using the 'Ebury Line', the GWR branching at Sudbury and the LNWR from their main line at Harrow and through Rickmansworth Church Street Station, running on towards Chorley Wood. Once Lord Ebury had decided that a railway would benefit the people of Rickmansworth, things moved quite quickly, from the first rumours in March 1860, to Royal assent in July the same year to the 'turning of the first sod' in November. The Board consisted almost entirely of local landowners, including Lord Ebury himself and the Rt. Hon. Reginald Capel of Little Cassiobury, Watford. The description of the first sod being turned, at Tolpits Farm (Tolpits Lane, near Olds Approach) is well worth a mention:-
"Although November, it was warm, the green slopes of Cassiobury rising from the valleys of the Gade and Colne as brilliant as a summer's day. Here are cultivated fields, ploughed and harrowed and there, pieces of pasture, the whole belted with trees. Yonder, the mill at Croxley Green, whose sails reflecting sunbeams, stand out vivid from a background of black cloud. The sunlight plays upon the umbrageous shades of Moor Park, lights up the spire of Rickmansworth Church and sheds glory upon every subject." When Lord Ebury cut the first sod, he said that "the day's ceremony was of little importance if only a line from Rickmansworth to Watford was built". His most hearty co-operation would be given to a line which also went to Uxbridge. "If the line to Uxbridge is built, the GWR will bring smokeless Welsh coal to the Chess and Colne valleys", he promised.
In contrast to the elaborate ceremony above, the formal opening of the railway (4.5 miles long) on 1st October 1862 took place with much less ceremonial. However, Lord Ebury did provide a repast at 'The Queen's Arms' in Watford for 150 workmen who had been employed in the construction of the line. At the same time he was still pressing on with his attempts to build the Uxbridge line, but eventually, after lukewarm enthusiasm locally, the GWR's withdrawal of its promised subscription of £20,000 and the absorption of money by parliamentary expenses (the Uxbridge dream had incurred eleven Bills and Acts promoted by the sponsors), the Watford and Rickmansworth was finally absorbed by the LNWR and the Uxbridge line never materialised.
An important clause of the W. & R. Act was a requirement that the railway be carried over the Grand Union Junction Canal near Lock 80 (Lot Mead) allowing adequate clearance for canal traffic. If the waterway was obstructed, the railway was to pay a penalty of £10 for every hour there was an impediment. (I can't imagine masted vessels on the canal getting stuck under the bridge myself, but perhaps they were thinking of the loco coming off the bridge!)
There is, apparently, little in the way of records of the branch line in the early steam days, though there are photos, especially in the above mentioned book. The Rickmansworth terminus was located opposite St Mary's Church where interchange sidings were provided with the nearby Grand Union Canal. An end terrace cottage opposite St Mary's Church was known as "Station House" and provided accommodation for the Station Master and Goods Agent. The line had two other stations at Watford High Street and Watford Junction. The Rickmansworth goods yard was quite active and there was much traffic, including the daily hampers of watercress for which Watford and districts were once famous. There was also a contract with Bell's Asbestos Works at Harefield, which sent its products on a two-barge shuttle up the canal to the transshipment wharf where a steam crane transferred the products onto what was often a daily train of 15 - 25 wagons. There was also a deal of passenger travel, especially at peak times, with the public wanting to get to Watford, as much for the Watford FC matches as anything. Watford Grammar School pupils were also among the most regular patrons. However, by the 1920s, it was usually a lightly loaded train puffing alongside Croxley Moor.
After the LNWR took over management of the North London Railway in 1909, plans were announced in 1911 for proposed electrification (authorised in 1907) of the coming Croxley Green branch line and the existing Rickmansworth branches. The new branch to Croxley Green was not welcomed by the Metropolitan, which was busy preparing its Bill for its own Watford branch. The LNWR apparently giggled about the proposed MET terminus in an area known by the name of 'The Wilderness'. In response to this, at a committee meeting, the Met's General Manager is quoted as saying: "If you saw Croxley Green (LNWR) station today, you would see it standing like a pelican in the wilderness, at least half a mile from Croxley Green village and serving nobody." The Croxley Green branch line opened 15th June 1912. On 10th February 1913, the new, sharply-curved line from Bushey to a triangular junction with the Rickmansworth branch came into service. Watford High Street station, until then, had had a fairly quiet existence with lightly-loaded trains from Rickmansworth. Suddenly it was hosting about 280 steam and electric services daily and a new dark and dull platform was built between the now double track. The canopy above this was was attached to the supporting wall by girders and hung without any other support from pillar or post. An intermediate station was added on the Croxley Green branch line where it passed under Tolpits Lane. Known briefly as Hagden Lane, the name was soon changed to Watford West. It is perhaps worth mentioning that this station was closed for the duration of the Great War. Croxley Green came to prominence in March 1913 when the station buildings and platform were totally destroyed by fire thought to have been started by suffragettes. During 1921/2, Rickmansworth's wooden station was replaced by a new brick structure and while rebuilding took place, tickets were issued from what had been the little lamproom at the foot of the platform ramp.
Photos of the Croxley Green branch line can be viewed here: http://www.westwatfordhistorygroup.org/apps/photos/album?albumid=11837664
Over the years, a number of direct Croxley Green to Euston/Broad Street trains were provided, but without any consistent pattern for any length of time. Neither of the branches were heavily patronised and consequently were often the first chosen for economies and timetable revisions. In October 1922, when the main electrification was complete, Croxley Green had 25 trains to and from Watford and in 1924/5, saw provision of special all day Watford to Broad Street trains to serve Wembley for the British Empire Exhibition. Although services were altered in the next few years, no through service from Rickmansworth was ever provided. In September 1950, in a belated attempt to distinguish Rickmansworth LM from the MET station further up the town, the station was renamed Rickmansworth (Church Street), yet the cessation of passenger services on the Rickmansworth branch line came in 1952, though a freight service continued until January 1967. Services to Croxley Green continued to be revised and cut. In 1966 a proposal to close the branch was vetoed by Barbara Castle (then Transport Minister), but she did agree to closure of the direct link from Croxley to Bushey and Oxhey. A new passenger station, Watford Stadium Halt, was opened on 4th December 1982, solely to serve the needs of visiting football supporters travelling to Watford FC. The single platform was situated a hundred yards or so from the bridge in Vicarage Road. By 1990, after a few failed attempts to rejuvenate the line, the rotting Croxley Green station platform was demolished, together with much of the original Watford West station.
The Croxley Mill private sidings (opened 1899) were used to bring coal from the Midlands and china clay from Cornwall to John Dickinson's paper mill situated on the Grand Union Canal. Lord Ebury had a view of the Mill from Moor Park and to meet his objections to the plans for the line, Dickinsons provided an "Egyptian Front" with two massive columns and an entablature of painted stucco, presumably more pleasing to the eye! As late as 1981, two oil trains were scheduled to run each week, but finally ceased when Dickinsons ran down their operations. The siding was 'clipped out' in January 1983 and the track eventually lifted in 1986/7.
Today the Rickmansworth to Watford line is a pleasant cycling/walking track. The branch line to Croxley Green is still there, although massively overgrown. Traces of the branch down to Dickinson's Mill can still be found, if you know where to look. All traces of Rickmansworth (Church Street) station and sidings have long gone.
Rickmansworth C1870 with the waterways as shaded areas
References : For a more detailed account of the line, the construction, its branches, services and stock used, "West of Watford, Watford Metropolitan & the L.M.S. Croxley Green and Rickmansworth branches" by F.W. Goudie & Douglas Stuckey comes highly recommended.
Footnote: * Lord Ebury (1801 - 1893), was born Robert Grosvenor, third son of the Marquis of Westminster. He was MP for Middlesex before being created Baron Ebury. His home was the now famous Moor Park, a former estate of Cardinal Wolsey.
Here are some links to photographs of the former line from Nick Catford's excellent website: