Just A Moment

Ride the Ripples of Time with Lynda Bullock

West Watford - A History - Early References

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. Roman finds, including the remains of a Roman trackway, were discovered near Hamper Mill and Neolithic artefacts when Greenhill Crescent was being laid. (visit Watford Museum).  The only road that remains constant across this area from Rickmansworth to Watford is Moor Lane/Tolpits Lane.  Or is it ? Let's start with the earliest references I have come across so far to this particular area, which includes Hamper Mill, Brightwells Farm (formerly Hatter Farm) and Holywell.   

An extract from an unpublished 'History of Rickmansworth' by Mr A Montgomerie says: 'About 1416, the Manor of the More was conveyed to a William Fleet who, a few years later, put up a claim to have right of way for himself and his cattle from the More, across the fields to the market place at Watford, in other words, along Tolpits Lane. The Abbot of St Albans went to law and William Fleet failed to gain his point.'

The More mentioned is, of course, Moor Park, the name "more" derived from the old English word "mor" (later expressed as "mere") and meaning marshy land, waste upland or fen and tributaries of the Colne run through the site.  The manor was among the manors of south-west Hertfordshire given by King Offa to the abbey of St Albans and remained in their hands for the next 500 years. 

The More did not get its road to Watford till a century later when a greater Cardinal, even than Beaufort-Cardinal Wolsey, extended the Park by seizing the lands of Tolpits and constructing a road. From a Chronology of the More: 1435 Flete came into conflict with tenant farmers when he tried to enforce a right of way from the Manor to Watford. This was unsuccessful until a century later when Cardinal Wolsey seized the land owned by Tolpott (hence Tolpits Lane).

The Name Tolpits had existed well before Wolsey's time as Tolpade in 1364, evolving to Tolput in 1803 and Twopits in 1822. The name (says the 'Watford Rural District Guide') seems to come from 'toll path' and was an alternative name for Cassio mill mentioned in 1086. From a British History On Line reference, 'The water mill at Cassio was called Tolpade and was, in 1364, held by John son of William Aignel. It was then in a ruinous condition and probably was never repaired, as nothing more is heard of it and there is no mill at Cassio at the present day... '

Alan W Ball in his 'Street and Place Names in Watford' states "Tolpits Lane: Appears in 1365 as Tolpade, which had become Tollepathe by 1529 with mention of Tolpottbridge in 1594. It seems to have been some form of a toll path with "pit" a modern corruption, but all trace of a toll being exacted in this area has long since vanished. There was also a farm in the area and in the 18th century provided Tolpulls as another variant in the form of the name."

What is possibly of more importance and certainly of more interest to me personally, is an extract from Grant Longman's 'The Origin of Watford' in which he says: 'Two Roman roads are thought to have crossed in the vicinity of the present Watford High Street, having crossed the River Colne at Hamper Mill and Watford Mills'.   Mr Longman goes on to postulate the following:  'The number of mills and other features mentioned in Domesday suggests that Cashio/Watford consisted of more than one settlement at that time. The problem is to determine their whereabouts. The position of the old mills and routeways provides a reasonable starting point for the search.'  He continues:   'A third approach is to analyse the history of subinfeudation. Without doubt the manor of Cashio is the oldest and is the matrix out of which subsequent manors were carved. Quite early, one part — later called Leavesden hamlet — was annexed to Bushey manor. This can be detected in the Domesday survey. Because Domesday indicates no other subdivision of Cashio, nor mentions Watford, I believe that the manor of Watford (as distinct from the settlement or the parish of Watford) postdates 1086. This is confirmed rather than denied by the Inquisition of Edward I which found that the manors of Cashio, Rickmansworth and Sandridge were ancient Demesne held of the King time out of mind, before the Conquest, by the Abbots of St. Albans. The late date of Watford manor is also suggested by its irregular shape and outliers within the neighbouring manors. It is little more than the medieval town of Watford with its common fields and a few score of acres of scattered fields held in severalty. The analysis will be more rewarding if and when we can map the other manors and pseudo-manors, e.g. the manor of Moor, the estate of Brightwells, the manor of Garston and the manor of Callowland. 

Brightwells, in particular, intrigues me. One of the earliest references to Bright-wells is in 1292 when a John da Brutwelle was involved in a land transaction with the Abbot of St. Albans. This suggests an estate at Brightwells sufficient to give some status. The place-name of Brightwells goes back to the 12th century and may be even older because of its position near the crossing of the Colne towards Hamper Mill. 

In 1365 a list of properties records "Bruteswelle and Watford 17s 17d rent from divers tenants in the hamlets, held of the heirs of Sir Philip Durdent in free socage by service of 1d yearly and 1lb cummin .... the premises in Rykemers-worth, Caysho, Brutewelle, Crokesle and Watford, except the rent in Danielehide in Rykemersworth were in the possession of Roger Colyn by demise." Here, in the 14th century, it appears that Brutewelle (i.e. Brightwells) had the status of at least a hamlet but possibly of a village ranking alongside the other places mentioned. Incidentally it also suggests equal status for the settlement at Cashio. 

Later, Brightwells seems to be in the manor of Moor and there is a "high bridge" across the river Colne "at Hamper Mill and the estate includes demesne lands and a field called High Crosse field . The manor of Moor is another fragmented manor the outliers of which included the Blue Boar in Rickmansworth and land in Watford parish. '  

Finally:  ' Within Cashio there were, c.1086, 4 mills and therefore I hazard at least 4 hamlets. One would be the hamlet of Cashio, giving its name to the manor or vi versa - possibly near Cashio-bridge. Another would be the hamlet of Watford, chosen or founded by St. Albans Abbey for the site of another mill and the parish church — and therefore giving its name to the parish. Later, with the building of the royal palace at Kings Langley and the greater importance of radial routes from London as opposed to radial routes from St. Albans and Winchester, Watford would oust the other hamlets by being more favourably positioned. A third hamlet would be near Brightwells farm on or near the old Roman road and with easy access to Hamper Mill. The fourth hamlet I leave to the reader; possible locations are Grove Mill, Cassiobury Mill, Garston, Munden or Oxhey (Wiggenhall). Eventually several manors and independent estates were created within the large parish of Watford (coincident with the pre-Domesday manor of Cashio). 


One was the manor of Watford which related to the town of Watford, and little else. With the decay of the manorial system the parish and the town finally became synonymous. Finally I hazard that the small settlement of Brightwells may he the most ancient of all with a tenuous link back to the time of the Roman villa nearby at Hamper Mill. The settlement of Cashio is probably the next oldest, dating back to Saxon times. Watford, I suspect, is nearly as old as Cashio and was a very small settlement related to the founding of the parish church, presumably in the late 10th century. Because Watford did not expand very much until the 12th century the archaeological evidence for the period before that is likely to be confined to the immediate vicinity of St. Mary's parish church.'

 To read more of this and a list of the references used, please access the following link or copy and past into your search bar.  http://www.hertfordshire-archive.co.uk/publicationarticle.asp?cv=1&artID=5

So if Mr Longman is correct, whenever we walk down Vicarage Road, on through Brightwells Farm to Hamper Mill, we are likely walking one of the mentioned Roman Roads or trackways to and from Watford.  Further, I am also very tempted to see Brightwells as of some importance when you do indeed consider it's geological position on a raised piece of land next to the Colne, with Hamper Mill and 'the Manor of the More' beyond and Oxhey Hall across the river.  

 In another study by Michael Hodgetts - My History of South West Hertfordshire book 12 2008 - Mr Hodgetts sets out the Saxon parish boundary of Oxhey, part of which was:  'To the Beorclege (birchwoods = Oxhey Woods); Cudhelming bean (barn) = Hampermill; Over the old style; to the well (Brightwells); along the river to Colne Bridge.'  Further:  'A 'high bridge' existed over the Colne near More Hall. There was probably a small vill (hamlet) near each mill, i.e. Brightwells by Hampermill.'  A 'vill' was a local region which might contain a scattering of houses over a wide area. 

Other early mentions of Brightwells are:  1349 - Bretewell and 1364 - Brittewell.  

 My references:  An Online History of Croxley Green 130BC to 1934 AD 

Three Rivers Museum of Local History 

Street and Place Names in Watford - Alan W Ball

British History On Line

Michael Hodgetts - My History of South West Hertfordshire

Grant Longman - The Origin of Watford.  (Grant Longman was born in Watford, but lived in Bushey for most of his life, helping set up the museum, working as collections curator and providing a series of detailed research on the area. He died in March 2010)