The river Colne rises in two streams, one at Colney Heath, near Hatfield, and the other between Elstree and Barnet; it flows southwest in a winding course through Herts to Rickmansworth, and leaves a few miles south of that place. The area of its basin in Herts is 200 square miles. Looking at that part of the valley of the Colne in the parish of Watford, one is led to the conclusion that in the olden times this valley was one marsh or swamp, and that the artificial banks, which now hold the stream and direct its course through the centre of the valley, were made to concentrate the water for the use of the neighbouring mills.
Some time ago, when excavating at the 'Watford Gas Works, the workmen found a number of bones, which were submitted to Dr. Brett for examination, who pronounced some to be human, and others those of a horse and red deer; they were afterwards seen by a professor of anatomy, who fully confirmed Dr. Brett's opinion thereon. The theory this circumstance introduces is, that the ford once at the bottom of the town was much wider than the present stream, and that some unfortunate man on horseback attempted to cross it and both were lost in the swamp; and that the other bones were those of one of the wild deer with which the woods of this county abounded centuries ago.
Fifty years ago the Colne at Watford abounded with fish, including fine trout, pike, and perch, and for many years no restriction existed as to fishing, and this sport was indulged in so extensively that the river was nearly bereft of its finny occupants.
Some years ago, however, Mr. Jonathan King and others concerned stopped the angling to a great extent, and the quantity of fish increased. At various times Mr. King put a quantity of Neuchâtel trout in the stream, and some fine ones have been occasionally caught - one in April, 1883, by Mr. C. H. Thomas, of Colnebrook, weighing nine pounds and three-quarters. In 1856, when there were plenty of fish in the Colne, Mr. King netted, at Wiggen Hall, fifty-four pounds of trout in one day. At one time the canal in Cassiobury Park was dragged periodically with a net, and a large quantity of fine fish caught, the best of which were sent as presents to some of the inhabitants of Watford. Mr. Mead has stated that the largest quantity of eels caught on any one day at Watford Mills was about three hundredweight. Fish hatching was carried on at one time by Mr. Hibbert, Lord Essex, and Mr. J King.
About thirty-five years ago there was a public-house at the bottom of Water Lane, close to the river, which when closed was turned into the two cottages now there. The sign was the "Fighting Cocks," a very apropos sign, as the brutal pastime of cock-fighting was carried on there at one time. During the time of the last occupant, Mrs. Lucy Deacon, it was a pleasure-boat station, where one could hire a boat and enjoy a row up the river as far as Bushey Mill Bridge; the charge was one shilling per hour, and the person or party hiring the boat was required to leave half-a-crown with the landlady as a security against any loss she might sustain by damage done to her boat. The house and premises were generally crowded on Sunday afternoons and evenings, and not infrequently a spill into the water occurred when the boat was occupied by youth who had indulged freely in drinking before they had started on their voyage up the Colne. The bridge over the river, and also that over the ditch beyond, were widened by the late Mr. Majoribanks; he also desired to widen the bridge over the Rickmansworth Railway in Water Lane, but the company's terms were not acceptable to him, and consequently an improvement so desirable was not carried out.
Picturesque Hertfordshire - On the Colne - Raphael Tuck "Oilette"
From 'The Making of Oxhey Park' (original research by Jean and Keith Alexander - edited by Lynda Bullock)
In January 1926 Mr Andrew-Artha was given permission
to provide and hire out boats on the new Corporation’s water at Wiggenhall. This wasinitially for 3 years
and he would pay £30 a year if Sunday boating was allowed, otherwise £20 a
year. The number of boats was limited to 12 and the type and construction had
to be approved. Permission was also given to erect a boathouse. Boats were
hired out at 3d and 6d a session and by 1929 the boating licence was being
shared with a Mr Lock. Mr Andrew-Artha also had to insure against accidents and
exercise proper supervision. But in June 1926 the Corporation Engineer was
instructed to put up notices warning boaters about straying onto stretches of
the river owned by the Gas Company and again in May 1927 there were further
complaints of persons using boats beyond the Corporation’s bounds.
Also during this time, there
was an on-going battle between those who wanted strict Sunday observance and
those who did not. The Estates Committee did recommend that boating be allowed
seven days a week, but at a later meeting two aldermen proposed boating only be
allowed on weekdays and the amendment was carried. In May 1927 Mr Greenfield
asked again for Sunday boating, but the matter was deferred ‘until the current
licence expires’. A year later the
Estates Committee turned down another request, this time to sell minerals and confectionery on Sundays and a few weeks later the lessees of the boathouse had to write a
letter of apology to the Town Clerk for doing just that - selling minerals on a Sunday.
But it has been recalled by
residents remembering the 1930s that sweets, soft drinks and ice cream were
sold from the boat house and as there was no electricity or gas, refrigeration
was via a bucket of ice from an ice factory in Wiggenhall Road. When the Second
World War came along, the boating and refreshment business carried on for a
little while, minus the ice cream and a shadow of his former self, Mr Andrew-Artha
died in 1943. The boathouse was closed and demolished.
As of 2019:
Watford Borough Council and The Colne Catchment Action Network has launched a new 10 year project that aims to bring eight different sections of the River Colne into the public realm.
It will mean residents can access the river and enjoy riverbank walks and a range of water based activities, pastimes and educational programmes.
The river, which is a tributary of the Thames, will undergo an extensive cleanup and a key goal is to attract back the original biodiversity of the river and its banks including plants, fish, birds and insects and other species. Key to the project will be harnessing a strong ‘citizen science’ volunteer force who can carry a range of support activities including water monitoring.
Environmental charity Groundwork has been appointed by the council to lead on the first phase of the project which is called Rediscovering the River Colne. In the initial development phase it will create a habitat and access improvement strategy for the following public sites:
Knutsford Playing Fields
Radlett Road Playing Fields
Waterfields Recreation Ground
Riverside Recreation Ground
Lairage Land (Local Nature Reserve)
The improvements identified for each site will be delivered by a specialist contractor,* local partners and stakeholders and volunteers. **A number of privately owned sites along the river will also be targeted.
A launch event was held for the project this week (Monday 9 September 2019). Guests assembled at Knutsford Playing Fields, where they heard detail of the many elements of the project from partners. Sandy Belloni of Community Connection Projects CIC, then ran a selection of conservation and water quality activities including river fly monitoring and guests were invited to walk along the river via Radlett Road Playing Fields and Waterfields Recreation Ground.
Sam Harbour, Project Officer for Groundwork said “This is an exciting project that is currently in its infancy, with the scope to become something really great. We’re looking forward to improving the health and biodiversity of the river Colne, as well as restoring and instilling it as a community resource.”
A selection of snippets from various sources relating to or mentioning places around West Watford, which will be added to over time. The Spectre of Hagden Lane At the end of the last (18th) or beginning of the present (19th) century, a man known as Jockey Fenson, who resided at the Lower Infirmary, then known as the Pesthouse, committed suicide and as at that day, felo-de-se * was not admitted to Christian burial, a hole was dug in a dell in Hagden Lane, a short distance beyond the turning to Tolpits and Polecat Farm, and he was buried there. Soon a rumour spread that a spectre clad in white walked the lane nightly and might sometimes be seen sitting on the gates or gliding noiselessly over the adjoining fields, and a great fear seized the children of the town and neighbourhood; indeed, many adults refused to pass the dell or go anywhere near it. The perturbation of the people became so great that the parochial authorities had the body removed and, I understand, it was re-buried at night one corner of the old churchyard. *felo-de-se - Latin, literally translated "a person who commits suicide or commits an unlawful malicious act resulting in his or her own death" From History of Watford and Trade Directory - Henry Williams 1884 Charitable Endowments - Holywell Also from Henry Williams's History of Watford and Trade Directory is a reference to charitable endowments in relation to Dame Fuller's Free School, 'without which the income it possessed in the time of the foundress would have proved wholly inadequate to carry her pious intentions into effect had it not been for the benevolent consideration of subsequent benefactors who bequeathed certain sums to supply the deficiencies'. However, mention is made of a circumstance noted by Mr Clutterbuck in connection with the said school. He says: "Mr Jonathan Cox Lovett, of Holywell, in this parish, by his will dated the 1st of May, 1780, made a reversionary devise of certain estates consisting of Holywell Farm, etc., to the trustees of this school; this devise, however, from having been made within twelve months of his decease and from not having been enrolled in Chancery, became void by the Act of the 9th of George II. c.36, called the Statute of Mortmain. Had this devise taken effect, the rents of the estates so devised would have been fully adequate to the future support of the school; under existing circumstances, however, its income must, in process of time, from the causes I have mentioned, be insufficient to defray its expenses."
When the Moor Park Estate was sold off at Auction in 1919, the land
that comprised the Estate was quite vast and stretched around Rickmansworth
into parts of Middlesex and up towards Watford and included farms, fields,
woods, cottages, streams, gravel beds and associated properties etc.
For the purposes of the Auction, the Estate was split into lots, each
coloured and numbered and with an accompanying description of what was for sale
and in a number of cases, a photograph of the property.
The map shows the area that was, at the time, the Cassiobridge Sewage
Farm and what was to become Holywell Estate and Croxley View. Each of the
coloured plots was numbered and given a description; for example, the small
red plot numbered 81 refers to Cole Kings
House, which stood where Holm Oak Park is now on the bend in Hagden
“an old-fashioned Residence with modern appointments standing in its own
Grounds and occupying a very convenient position within five minutes’ walk of
Watford West Station and about one and a half miles from Watford Junction. “
The Sale goes on to describe the building itself including the farm buildings
and the Pleasure Grounds which –
“are well timbered and shrubbed and on the Eastern Lawn is a large
Wellingtonia and an Araucaria. They also include a Tennis Lawn, Rock
Garden and Vegetable Garden, span-roofed Greenhouse and Vinery”.
The Watford Terrier (newspaper) of 1798 showed that John Dyson II, from
the well-known Watford brewing family, already owned Brightwells Farm (also
known as Hatters Farm) and occupied a further 115 acres (which could have been
Cole Kings Farm south of Hagden Lane). In 1830 he owned 75 acres of Cole Kings
Farm, but in 1844, just before his death, the Tithe Appointment shows that he
owned 244 acres, which is presumed to be both Brightwells and Cole Kings Farms.
Cole Kings Farmhouse 1988
The building became the site of Austin Cartons, printing and cardboard box manufacturers, but closed in 1987. Plans were subsequently submitted by Oliver and Saunders Developments of New Barnet for 88 one and two-bedroomed flats and studio flats on the site. Residents in the local area had objected to the proposed development and had asked the Council to place a preservation order on the farmhouse.
However, the Developers said they had waited ten weeks for permission from the Council to demolish, but the Council was six months behind with their planning applications and so, as the building was considered of no architectural significance and not listed, the Company decided they were within their rights to bulldoze.
Councillor Veronica Conlon who chaired Watford Borough Council's Development Sub-Committee at the time described the action as an act of gross vandalism. "There is so little of Watford's Past left and now another part of the town's history has gone. It could have been revitalised and used for a whole variety of things. The developers seem to have jumped the gun, but there is little we can do."
Written by Lynda Bullock
References: Moor Park: The Grosvenor Legacy
Local Newspaper article
Further photos of Cole Kings can be found in the Gallery