Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Scammell Lorry Centenary Run 2022

 SUNDAY, MAY 1, 2022 AT 12 PM – 4 PM

The Scammell 100 
100 years of Scammell in Watford, King George V playing fields, Tolpits Lane Watford.

The 1st May 2022 is the centenary of the founding of Scammell Lorries Limited – prior to this the trading Company was G Scammell & Nephew.
To commemorate the founding of Scammell Lorries Limited and the move from Fashion Street in Spitalfields, London, to Tolpits Lane, Watford, The Scammell Register is holding a celebration of Scammell products.
Thanks to Watford Council we have the use of The King George V Playing Fields for a Scammell gathering over the 1st May weekend.
The playing fields are in Tolpits Lane, between the site of the original and latter Scammell factories.
We intend to celebrate all things Scammell; the lorries and all associated Scammell products.
As well as the gathering on the playing fields, which will be open to the public Sunday 1st May 10am – 4pm there will be a road run leaving the playing fields at 4.30pm.

Information from the Scammell Register:

Photo credits and copyright Lynda Bullock 
taken at Classics on the Green, Croxley, 2008

Sunday, 19 December 2021

Season's Greetings

                                                            Last year I wrote:

"We should not write off 2020 as the worst of the worst and try to forget it. Hopefully we have learned many things from the struggle of the last few months. History doesn't have to be 20, 50, 100 or 200 years ago. History is yesterday. 2020 is a history we should not forget. Many, many people made it what it was, for good or bad.  Many experienced loss, mental anguish, hope, new friendships and a strengthening of the human spirit. 2020 was History with a capital H. Let's not forget it, but let us not be a slave to it. 2021 is a New Year and more history in the making". 

Unfortunately, we have fared little better in 2021 and now, at the end of the year, when we would all like to be celebrating with family and friends, another Covid variant has emerged to threaten us all. 

It is still unbelievably difficult for those working in our National Health Service and for those suffering from Covid and those affected by it. 

However you celebrate this time of year, it is still everyone's wish for a 

happier, healthier, safer New Year. Don't lose Hope. 

From all the Team at West Watford History Group

we wish you a very Merry Christmas

Monday, 22 November 2021

Watford Printers

 Watford Printers - Colney Butts House 

In the 18th century an area on the outskirts of Watford was called Colney Butts. This area included the Red Lion in Vicarage Road, the stables and adjoining land, the "cottages" at the end of the strip of land next to the pub, now much enlarged which, together with the Red Lion pub was historically a small holding with surrounding meadows. Colney Butts House, a farmhouse across the road from the Red Lion, eventually became Watford Printers.

A comparative look at some early maps seems to confirm that there was a building on the site of 58 Vicarage Road by 1805, but it is not shown on the 1766 map. 

There was certainly a property on the site of 58 Vicarage Road when the tithe map was created in 1842; plot no. 1717 was owned by Jonathan King, (presumably the Jonathan King who owned Watford Place), with Henry Catlin as a tenant. The property was described as “House, Outbuildings, Barn & Yard” at the time.

The house was extended in the 19th century and in 1910 the property was bought by the architect William H Syme, who had designed other buildings in Watford.

We know from the 1911 census that the house was being lived in by Percy and Annie Louise Nunn and their children. It was no longer listed as Colney Butts, but as 58 Vicarage Road.

A report of the Head of Management for the proposals for development of the site stated - 

"Architectural interest: A complex building with elements dating from three centuries. Part designed by the architect William H. Syme (F.R.I.B.A.), who was responsible for a number of other Locally and Nationally Listed Buildings in Watford. 

Function & Historical interest: The oldest part of the building was originally known as the Colney Butts House. Originally part of a farm and recorded as existing in the eighteenth century, this is one of the oldest houses that survive in Watford. Part of the two storey section was substantially extended during the mid-nineteenth century, when it still remained as a farmhouse. In 1910 the property was purchased as a home by the architect William Syme, who added the single storey element on the western side in 1911. 

In 1924 William Syme sold the site to Watford Printers, (which was established in 1921 as a Workers Co-partnership Society). They employed 80 people. In the 1930s the industrial extension was added. Obviously over the years the building had changed dramatically, leading to the loss of most of the original house. No record of the building can be found in the 1939 census.

The following description of Watford Printers Limited was to be found on the site 'Shopify' -

"Company description
Established in 1921, Watford Printers Limited have been providing the finest quality print to both private and commercial clients, at cost effective prices. Whilst we are aware of our need to keep up-to-date with our fast moving industry, we are acutely aware of our ethos and try to maintain the traditional values of giving high level service of which our foundations were built. In the early years we were a letterpress printer with monotype / linotype casting; we are currently a lithographic printer for single to full colour work of high runs, with a small digital department to cope with quick instant print demands of today. Our finishing department can handle all kinds of print finishing for retail customers and we will also take on trade work. Watford Printers Limited trades as a Workers Co-partnership Society and we are proud of our continued service to many local companies and Trade Union movements throughout the UK."

And the following is a piece written by Jo Francis for the 'PrintWeek' website: 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"It’s the end of the line for Watford Printers, the UK’s oldest worker co-operative, which has closed down just a few years short of its centenary. 

The firm was founded in the Hertfordshire town in 1921 by a group of typographical associations. At its peak, when Watford was a major printing centre, the co-partnership society employed almost 80 staff, but this had dwindled to just six employees in recent years.

Watford Printers president John Watson told Co-operative News that the society had not modernised its operations at the same pace as the rest of the printing industry, and its lengthy decision-making process had probably contributed to its downfall.

“Being a co-partnership society should be the ideal but it’s not,” he said. “It’s not enough to be democratic, you need to make a profit.”

Local litho and digital printer Hill & Garwood has taken on Watford Printers’ order book and some of its finishing kit, as well as one member of staff.

Managing director Clive Hill said: “We had a very good working relationship with them over a number of years, and they approached us after they’d decided to close it down. It’s such a shame they didn’t make their centenary.”

Watford Printers has been placed into voluntary liquidation with Moore Stephens, and creditors and redundancy payments have been paid from its reserve fund.

PrintWeek understands it only had a small amount of remaining print kit, including an A3 digital printer and a two-colour GTO. 

It occupied a fairly substantial site close to Watford FC’s Vicarage Road football ground, part of which was sub-let. The site is likely to be redeveloped into housing and the printer’s 39 members are expected to receive a payout after the building is sold.

Unite the Union assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “It’s a shame it’s happened, it’s the end of an era.”

And Marie Claire-Kidd writing for Coop News 18th September 2015 said: 

"The last of the worker co-partnership societies – and Britain’s oldest worker-owned co-op – has merged with a private firm.

Established in November 1921, Watford Printers has sold its order book to local print firm Hill & Garwood as part of its voluntary liquidation.

At its height in the 1960s and early 1970s, the business supported 78 employees. This year, before liquidation, there were just six workers and 39 members – mostly former apprentices and their spouses.

President John Watson and management committee member Dave Carruthers have been liaising with the liquidator. Mr Carruthers said: “There wasn’t enough work. They were losing £10,000 a month. They had paid into a reserve fund but that was running down.

“It’s a shame because it was a proper co-operative. When they were making money 37.5% of the profit went to the employees, 37.5% went into the reserve fund and 10% went into a provident fund for apprenticeships, sick pay and suchlike. The rest went to the taxman.”

He said the reserve fund, which had been in place from day one, and income from letting part of the printworks building had kept the society functioning during its final years. The print business was, however, chronically unprofitable.

A general meeting on 20 May agreed the company would wind up voluntarily. Michael Finch of Moore Stephens, Watford, was appointed liquidator.

The society has since given notice to its tenants, who have until February to vacate. The building will then be put up for sale and is expected to be demolished to make way for housing. Members will receive a payout after the building is sold. All debts have been covered.

Watford Printers, the last worker co-partnership or productive society, was set up in 1921 by a group of typographical associations. These and other unions, along with co-operative societies, provided investment and custom throughout the co-op’s formative decades. Britain’s oldest worker co-operative is now publisher New Internationalist, which was formed in March 1971.

The society’s heyday came in the 1960s and 1970s, under president Bernard Adams and general manager Bert Wicks, who Mr Carruthers describes as an extraordinary businessman and manager with strong co-operative values. “He didn’t suffer fools gladly,” he says. “He was as tough with the trade unions as he was with customers who wouldn’t pay.”

But the British printing industry transformed during the 1980s as litho and digital printing became the norm and Watford, formerly the centre of British printing, lost its crown. Watford Printers failed to modernise and struggled to compete as new technologies came online.

The unions withdrew their investment as they consolidated, although this did not affect profitability.

John Watson said: “Because we were a co-partnership society we were a bit reluctant to do what we did, but we had to look at the times. We got into digital a little bit but not enough.

“A lot of work was being sent out because we couldn’t handle it. It was inevitable that we would go into liquidation. We were just making sure we looked after everyone here.”

Five of the six workers chose redundancy and have been paid out. Mr Watson is working part time for Hill & Garwood.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t do the hundred years,” he commented, “but in my opinion we should have gone into liquidation before we did.”

He added that the society’s decision-making process, conducted mostly though monthly management committee meetings comprising two worker members, six shareholders and a president, made Watford Printers slow to change and could have had a bearing on the society’s failure to be profitable in the 21st century.

“Being a co-partnership society should be the ideal but it’s not,” he said. “It’s not enough to be democratic, you need to make a profit.”

Dave Carruthers agreed: “Being a co-partnership society was its strength and its weakness. There was a lot of community, a lot of fun and laughter, but the business was beyond saving.”

~ oOo ~

The agrarian nature of this part of the District before the mid-nineteenth century can be seen on the Dury and Andrews’ map from 1766, which shows the majority of the area as farmland. A track, which is the present day Vicarage Road, can be seen going across the area on an east-west axis, with two buildings on its northern side. This group is likely to represent the Red Lion Public House, which was first recorded when the site changed use and became a public house in 1751. Colney Butts House, not shown on the map below, would later be built approximately where the 'H' is.   

In the decades that followed, further urban development in the area was limited. To the south-east of the Red Lion Public House, a group of buildings had been developed, originally as part of a farm, but later as a more distinctive property known as ‘Colney Butts House’. This property is recorded from the eighteenth century and can be clearly seen on the 1842 Tithe Map. The most significant new development in this area, that is visible on the Tithe Map, was the development in 1838 of the Watford Union Workhouse. During this period the track may have been known locally as ‘Union Street’ – in connection with the workhouse. However, it is detailed as ‘Hagden Lane’ on the 1871 OS Map, before being detailed as ‘Vicarage Road’ on the 1896 OS Map. The etymology of the name that lasted for this stretch of road related to the location of St Mary’s Vicarage on a stretch of the road further east, which has since been cut off by the Exchange Road section of the inner-urban ring road. Hagden Lane still exists as a street name, but only now relates to a stretch further to the west of Vicarage Road. 

1871 OS Map - Colney Butts House is diagonally opposite the Red Lion

June 2021 - Photograph Lynda Bullock



A combined piece of research by Lynda Bullock, Sue Shrimpton, Ed Bristow, WBC, Stephen Danzig, Genevieve Arblaster-Hulley and with acknowledgements to Jo Francis - PrintWeek and Marie Claire-Kidd of Coop News

Maps from "Maps of Watford 1766-1938"  Mary Forsyth - available at Watford Museum or viewable on the WBC "Conservation Area Character Appraisal - The Square - January 2017" where there is also a portion of the Tythe map for the area.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Rabies Outbreak in Watford


By Roger Kattenhorn

The Social Background of 1877 Watford

As many of those alive at the time were aware, the late 19th century was a period of transition. British society was attempting to assimilate the societal effects of the economic and technological changes that had already occurred in the earlier industrial revolution.

The existing social order was proving to be inadequate especially in a town like Watford which was transitioning from a small country market town to a large industrialised railway conurbation now firmly positioned on the outskirts of London. As the old order decayed, local Reverend Newton Price found that his traditional role as a member of the established clergy had become more difficult. The ancient regime based on deference to inherited status was being challenged and undermined by both an economically powerful rising middle class and a tentatively self-aware working class whose labour was the source of the new wealth. The landed aristocracy’s original means of revenue in agriculture had long been in decline and was now diminishing faster than their social prestige.

All these changes were perfectly demonstrated by the shifting demography of Watford. Entrepreneurial plutocrats were taking on the landholdings of debilitated aristocrats and country squires and aping their style and culture in the estates that surrounded the town. At the same time, into Watford’s proto-urban area of rapidly spreading streets, filled with by-law housing and factory enterprises, came an expanding proletarian population which was made up of the sons and daughters of the Hertfordshire countryside’s once exclusively agricultural workforce. 

The land, commerce, and labour: these were the contributory, complementary factors involved in the generation of new wealth in Watford, as in the nation. Yet the uneven distribution of this wealth and the weakening of the old social institutions also brought an increase in the underlying social and class antagonisms. These tensions could remain hidden or be smoothed over while the archaic social order meant that the constituent social classes had little or no genuine social interaction and lived largely ignorant of the circumstances or concerns of the other.  However the yawning social gulf, hitherto maintained by iron-clad etiquette and physical geography, was increasingly under strain. The Earls of Essex’s and Clarendon’s refusal to have the hoi polloi of railway passengers gawping at their estates had been an early local symbol of their futile resistance to social change.

The traditional role of the clergy was to act as a mediator in the occasional confrontations between the social classes, mollifying resentments and defusing rebellion on the one hand and mitigating harsh authoritarianism and callous disregard on the other. Christian charity was the proposed common currency in each instance.  In the 1870s as an Anglican clergyman serving in the expanding Watford suburb of Oxhey, Newton Price’s role could be a challenging one as the town’s underlying social antagonisms in this era of change were inclined to manifest themselves in novel and unexpected aspects of the town’s social and civic life.

The Newton Price letter

On October 30th 1877 a letter to the editor appeared in The Standard newspaper. It was from the Revd Newton Price, incumbent chaplain of the hamlet of Oxhey.  The heading above the letter read, “A Hero”. In this letter, which also featured in a number of other papers in the days ahead, Newton Price recounted the story of Charles Cheshire, a Bushey resident who had died that day under the grimmest of circumstances. Charles Cheshire, Price stated, had been an outstanding athlete, a sprinter “known to the Sporting World” who ran under the name of Fortescue. About a month ago, he went on to say, Cheshire had encountered a mad dog “on a solitary road”. Price described how with great courage and public spiritedness, Cheshire had “endeavoured to hold the brute and arrest him in his mischievous career”.

In late 19th century Britain, rabies was not the unknown disease it is today. A ‘mad dog’ was, as likely as not, to be a rabid dog and it was common knowledge that such a highly infectious and aggressive animal could spread the havoc of  incurably horrific disease in the town. Newton Price described a “fearful contest” between man and dog in which spilled “blood lay in the road”. Forestalling a future controversy, he also mentioned the occupants of a passing carriage who “thought themselves unable to help” and who “drove to the next farmhouse for assistance. When help came, the gallant fellow had been overcome and the dog escaped”.  The real purpose of Newton Price’s letter became apparent at the end. Charles Cheshire had now subsequently died as a result of the attack and he had left behind him a young widow and three small children, the youngest of these merely a babe in arms. This residual family was now left “helpless and penniless”.

The contemporary social provision for people in Mrs Cheshire’s position was scant indeed. The workhouse was the only statutory recourse. The harsh and minimal regime exercised there was justified on the theologically backed grounds that the poor were feckless and generally the authors of their own condition in some way. That is to say the ‘undeserving poor’ who were resefntfully kept at the community’s begrudged expense. This assumption of blameworthiness was patently not the case with the Cheshire family. To Victorian sensibilities, the circumstances of their plight placed them in the converse position of ‘the deserving poor’. Newton Price’s letter is straining to present Charles Cheshire’s tragedy as a noble and heroic sacrifice. The reason for this was that the family would now depend on the only other contemporary provision for hardship the era would tolerate – charity; - a limited resource for which there was much competition.

After the shock of Charles Cheshire’s death, Newton Price had immediately gone into action, displaying the decisive activity that would make his reputation in the town. No time at all was lost in establishing a fund for Charles’ dependants. 

Since his arrival in the area, Newton Price had been attempting to cultivate the notables of the town. At the time of writing his letter he had already co-opted one of the town’s most prominent businessmen, F J Sedgwick the brewery owner, as a treasurer for the putative fund. The letter ended with an appeal for donations to be sent to this treasurer. Newton Price’s campaigning skill was apparent in the large number of newspapers that carried his letter, an epistle which astutely combined sensation with compassionate appeal. (Some papers, it must be said, merely lifted the lurid details from the letter without printing the appeal.). 

The Cheshire Fund had been rapidly constituted as a committee “of the local gentry” with Revd W Falconer, the Rector of Bushey, as their Chairman. 

 Almost immediately, the story of Charles Cheshire’s demise and the circumstances of his infection were being reproduced in newspapers all over the country.  At that point in time rabies, or hydrophobia, as the disease in humans was then known, was a hot topic in the press of 1877 where a certain amount of public hysteria was being simultaneously stoked and condemned by journalists.

The Hydrophobia Mystique

Despite its cause being unknown and its occurrence incurable, rabies in the 19th century, even in the worst years, had a very limited economic impact. At most it only claimed animals in their hundreds. In terms of mortality it was not comparable to foot and mouth disease or the new and devastating rinderpest which killed many hundreds of thousands of animals, nevertheless the public response to rabies was unparalleled and by any measure an over-reaction. Even contemporary observers in the midst of it recognised it as a hysteria. Throughout the 19th century, rabies/hydrophobia exercised a peculiar preoccupation over the public imagination in Britain. Almost any outbreak or incident, however limited, was automatically considered newsworthy. Journalists’ reports dwelt pruriently on the gruesome sufferings of human victims and speculated on the moral complicity of stereotypically canine carriers as agents of doom. 

Parliament regularly debated measures to combat the disease and a continuous public discourse on the subject veered between repelled horror and morbid fascination. The hysteria at the time was attributed not only to the unpleasantness of the symptoms, but also to the unnervingly long incubation period (usually over a month) and the certainty of death once the disease was confirmed. Moreover the fact that the disease could be inflicted on humans by their otherwise loyal, devoted and much loved pets was also a great source of insidious anxiety for the public.

The human death toll in the worst year – 1877 (the year of Charles Cheshire’s death) – was 79 and this was exceptional (The 57 who died in the runner-up year of 1875 represented only two deaths per million). The average Victorian was in fact ten times more likely to be murdered than catch rabies. This rarity meant that few doctors could recognise it and few vets could identify it. Nobody knew its cause, therefore speculation was rife and quack ‘remedies’ and protections catered more for the hysteria than the disease. The authorities however felt that they should make demonstrative responses to the public concern, but these measures meant that many more dogs were destroyed on the suspicion of madness than could possibly have been infected.

With such a weak understanding and recognition of the disease on the part of the medical authorities and rudimentary public health administrations, the first alert to the public would come from the press in alarmist reports couched in breathless and disturbing prose. There was no knowledge of viruses at this time so, although the infectiousness of rabies was well known, there was also the belief that the ‘origin’ of an outbreak could begin as a ‘self-generated’ illness within a susceptible individual animal.                                                                                              

In a society with a strong religious mind-set that attributed ’purpose’ to the workings of nature, the idea that these affected individual animals were in some way flawed or self-evidently morally reprehensible seemed likely.  A habitually aggressive or badly behaved dog was thought to be potentially predisposed to rabies.  Dogs being so malleable in their nature were popularly considered to have had their temperament or moral reprehensibility transferred to them from their owners. Thus the social prejudices and class distinctions of the age were transferred to the canine world. 

Although the actual cases of rabies were indiscriminate and affected a wide variety of wild and domesticated animals, in the popular imagination the exemplar of hydrophobia was the rabid dog, a mongrel cur whose nature had been brutalised and embittered by a cruel and fecklessly poor owner who had obtained it on a whim and cast it out as a stray when care and responsibility for it had proved too tiresome or costly. In this scenario rabies was thought to be self-generated within the conditioned animal as a sort of manifestation of its corrupted soul.  The malevolent pariah now wandered abroad in search of victims with the single purpose of transferring its deadly disease to them. 

This kind of moral pathology was characteristic of the times and a parallel can be seen in the contemporary attitude to venereal disease. This was thought of as typically spread by one type of person, the corrupted and corrupting prostitute. Her (the stereotype was female) customers were rarely seen as agents of the disease but often considered as ‘victims’. In 1864 when VD had infected a third of the army personnel and a similarly alarming proportion of the navy, the government introduced an Act for the compulsory medical examinations of prostitutes in port and garrison towns. By contrast, examinations of sailors and soldiers were ruled out as humiliating for the men and distasteful to the medical officers. To the pious Victorian sensibility, blame for disease was of more significance than prevention. 

In this moral setting, Charles Cheshire was represented as “A Hero” who attempted to save the town by fighting and subduing the vicious animal in order to prevent it from “spreading its mischief”. The Times report took pains to describe Cheshire as a “respectable young man” and by implication, a victim, in contrast to the assumed disreputable former owner of his attacker.  The Times went on to say “Were common people prevented from keeping dogs, many accidents of this kind would be prevented”. In keeping with this righteous dichotomy, the larger scale outbreaks of rabies among the hunting animals of the respectable rich were reported (if reported at all) in a more sympathetic and matter-of-fact way as ‘misfortunes’ and ‘heavy losses’. In these accounts the ‘fine qualities’, breeding and expensiveness of the animals was emphasised such as in the case of the outbreak of rabies that resulted in the total destruction of the foxhounds of the Essex Hunt, said to be “one of the finest and best hunting packs in the whole Kingdom.”

There does however appear to have been a certain amount of uneasiness among the rural hunting elite about the susceptibility of their animals to rabies. “It was after all, the aggressiveness and independence characteristic of the best foxhounds that supposedly inclined them to go mad, and their inbred predilection for chasing other animals over vast tracts of countryside that made them particularly liable to spread the disease.”  As if seeking to avoid any suggestion of the reprehensibility otherwise associated with rabies, the news reports of outbreaks among the animals of the gentry express incredulity that such a tragedy could befall such expensive, well cared for, pedigree animals. 

In these reports the usual villains, a stray mongrel or a feral cat, were often assumed or said to have been seen nearby. Reports of these outbreaks among the animals of the upper class universally lacked the panic-inducing elements that featured in those of the cities and towns.  

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