Thursday, 1 June 2023

The Gout Track

 The Gout Track

A curious name for a road, one might think, especially a turnpike road. 

Until authorisation by an Act of Parliament, responsibility for the repair of the roads lay with the parishes through which they ran, whether local roads or long-distance ones. The Overseer of the Highways, appointed by the Vestry, had the unenviable task of raising a rate to pay for repairs and finding the men to do the work. The Turnpike Acts made the users of the roads responsible for their upkeep, by the tolls which they had to pay at each gate they passed through. The tolls varied from 1/2d for an unladen horse up to 10d for a drove of livestock, with variable rates for carts, coaches and other wheeled vehicles, depending on the load and the width of wheels.

The Hatfield and Reading Turnpike was a turnpike road created in the 1760s to provide a route that connected the Great North Road (the modern A1) with the Holyhead Road (A5) and the Bath Road (A4). It had the advantage of making it possible for travellers to avoid congested London and was shorter in distance. 

The Founding of the Road

It is said the the Marquis of Salisbury, who lived at Hatfield House, wanted a route to the Great West Road avoiding central London, for onward travel to the spa towns of Bath and Cheltenham where, as a sufferer of gout, he often took the waters. This would also spare him the discomfort and congestion of London's cobbled streets. With others, including the Earl of Essex, who suffered from a similar affliction and who lived at Cassiobury House close to Watford, he sponsored an Act of Parliament passed in 1757 for the building of a road from Hatfield to Reading. The Reading and Hatfield Turnpike Trust was set up by a further Act passed in 1768 to improve the route between the two towns. 

It ran via St Albans, Watford, Rickmansworth, Amersham, High Wycombe and Marlow, with two alternative routes south and west from there, one to Knowl Hill (on the Great West Road between Maidenhead and Reading) and the other to Reading itself via Henley-on-Thames. In Watford the turnpike was known as Hagden Lane or colloquially as Ricky Road.

For many years this route was known as the Gout Track given its raison-d'etre. 

In 1881 it was the last of the turnpikes to have its tolls removed, being on the last surviving Turnpike Trusts in the country. 

Photograph By Ian Capper, CC BY-SA 2.0,

References:  Wikipedia

Watford, A History - Mary Forsyth

Sue Ettridge

Monday, 8 May 2023

Domenic's Cafe

 Closure of Domenic's Cafe, Vicarage Road

Photo courtesy of Stephen Danzig

A family run cafe has sadly closed at the end of January 2023 after 40 years in Vicarage Road.

Frank Blasi, who worked at the family-run business for 25 years, told the Watford Observer: “It’s a decision we’ve made as a family to explore other avenues.

Although the economic climate has been tough, it had no bearing on the decision, Frank added.

His dad Domenic, who opened the business in 1983, still chips in aged 80, while Frank’s sisters Luisa and Rita also work there too.

“It allows my parents now to just relax, especially my mum, because my mum (Nicky) works here as well. It’s purely from a family point of view.”

The decision to close sparked a wave of touching customer responses, which Frank described as “incredible and humbling”.

“Everyone’s got a little story and a memory which is nice,” he added. “For me it’s just going to work really, and I just didn’t realise how we’ve affected so many people over the years.

“But everyone’s saying ‘it’s the end of an era’, ‘don’t know what we’re going to do’, especially the Watford match day fans who come in as it’s been their place to go to.

“Some have even said to me that they enjoy coming to us more than going to the football!”

Many messages of sadness, but also good wishes were posted from customers. 

Report courtesy of The Watford Observer

Photographs in the Gallery courtesy of Stephen Danzig

Thursday, 24 November 2022

Whippendell Road Shops

 Tony's, Gents Hairstylist

In the Whippendell Road Parade of Shops you will find Tony's Gents Hair Stylists, surely the Oldest Hairdressers in Watford. It appears there has been a Hairdressers here for over a Hundred Years.

166 Whippendell Road started off as Butchers Shop, Killala, early 1900's, then Eastmans c1906 until c1911, then from c1912 to the present day it seems it has been a Gents Hairdressers owned by the same family. Present Owner Gio has said his Grandfather opened here in the Sixties and has been in the same Family ever since.

Photo of Gio and Assistant celebrating over 50 years of hairdressing in the same family at the same shop.   Photo credit Stephen Danzing

Inside Tony's Hairdressers, the Decor hasn't changed since the 1970's. 
Photo Credit Steve Danzig

Gio and Assistant celebrating over 50 years of hairdressing in the same shop.
Photo credit Stephen Danzig

January 1990, China Garden opens next door to Tony's.
Photo - Watford Observer

Top Photo - Watford Observer - Opening of China Garden  ....  
Below 2018 - Photo Credit Eric Johnson with permission to share

Whippendell Road shops with Southsea Avenue to the right. Little change through the years. Photo Credit Stephen Danzing

Looking in the direction of the town from Tesco on the corner of Harwoods Road.
Photo credit Stephen Danzing October 2022

Thursday, 3 November 2022

Watford Charter Centenary Celebration

  Centenary Celebration of the granting of Watford's Borough Charter

2022 marks 100 years since the town of Watford was awarded its borough status by Royal Charter.

On Friday 30th October at the West Watford Community Centre, an exhibition and afternoon tea was held in celebration of the granting of Watford's Borough Charter on 18th October 1922. 

The person behind the idea was West Watford History Group's secretary Sue Ettridge and the event was brilliantly put together by her. Sue also gave a short speech to the invited guests and special thanks were given to all the volunteers who helped it all go smoothly and for the amazing celebratory cake made by one the Centre's Trustees. Photos can be found in the website gallery, but below is one of Sue in front of one of her Charter Day exhibits delivering her short but informative speech.

Centenary Charter Tea and Exhibition held at West Watford Community Centre

~ oOo ~

Below is a full report concerning Charter Day posted in the Watford Observer. Credit goes to them for the photos used.

Watford’s Charter was granted in recognition of the town’s increasing importance as a centre for industry, business and as a home for a growing community, who, like today, were the heart of the town’s success and popularity.

The following extracts are taken from the Watford Observer:

Charter Day, October 18th, 1922:  “Long before noon, crowds began to gather in High Street and to line the pavements. Those taking part in the procession began to assemble soon after 10 o’clock at the borough boundary at Haydon Road. Here a platform had been erected; it was covered with red baize, carried a score or more of chairs and at its back floated the Union Jack, flanked on either side by coloured bunting.”

The report goes on to then list all those who officiated from “the Charter Mayor, the Earl of Clarendon” through the mace bearer (Sgt-Major C Maxted) to Judge Dawson Crawford, a number of ladies and members of the Urban District Council and other public bodies”.

“The uniforms and robes which were worn, and the municipal maces and swords carried, contributed to a brilliant spectacle”, the report adds.

“There was little time to wait before the arrival of the Charter; in fact, some ten minutes before the hour fixed, cheering announced the arrival of the motor car in which were seated Mr Dennis Herbert (chairman of the Incorporation Committee), and Mr T.R. Clark (chairman of the Urban District Council) and Mr G Blake (vice chairman). Mr Dennis Herbert was in Court dress and as soon as the car had pulled up, he rose from his seat and addressed the Charter Mayor, those on the platform standing meanwhile.

“He said: ‘The people of Watford lately besought of his Majesty that their town might be raised to the position and dignity of a Borough as befitting its size and importance. Their request was put forward in a petition, signed by a majority... of the inhabitants. His Majesty was graciously pleased to comply with that request and has granted a Charter of Incorporation, in which your Lordship is designated as First or Charter Mayor, Mr Councillor R.A. Thorpe as your deputy and Mr William Hudson as First or Charter Town Clerk. I, therefore, as chairman of the Incorporation Committee, in company with the chairman and vice-chairman of the Urban District Council, have the honour to have received this morning from his Majesty’s Secretary of State, and to hand now to you the original Charter given by warrant under the King’s sign manual.’”


         Receiving the Charter                                          The Earl of Clarendon

The Mayor then received the Charter, said a few words of thanks and handed it to the chairman of the council for safekeeping.

He then read out a telegram to be sent to the King, George V, thanking him for granting the charter. “The telegram was at once despatched and a reply was received in time to be read by the Mayor at the subsequent meeting in the Palace Theatre,” the report notes.

Then it was time for the procession, and looking at the list of those involved, it must have gone on for some time. Police horses were first, followed by the local fire brigades, detachments of the Herts Territorial Regiment (with band and guns), the British Legion, Watford Company of Church Lads’ Brigade, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, Watford Grammar School and other Watford schoolchildren...  the list goes on and on including, yes, the good old Watford Observer, sandwiched between the chairman and members of the Watford and West Herts Medical Society and various magistrates.

Among the more unusual vehicles was, it seems, “a full size model of Stephenson’s Rocket”.

After that, and other train exhibits, came the trade cars from “such prominent firms as the Cobra and Delectaland”. Other highlights listed included “a car on which a shoemaker was at work”.

The report concluded: “The procession, which was of great length, travelled along High Street, St Albans Road, Station Road, Woodford Road, Queen’s Road and High Street, to the Market Place.”

Once it got there, so many people had gathered “that it was found impossible to clear an open space for the proclamation of the Charter” so the officials addressed everyone from the balcony of the Essex Arms hotel.

After various speeches, the Lord’s Prayer and much cheering, a banquet was held at Buck’s Restaurant. After that, came a public meeting at the Palace Theatre with many more speeches covering not only why Incorporation was a good idea but also containing much speculation on the future.

Lord Clarendon, when he rose to address the meeting, was received with loud and prolonged cheers and a quick chorus of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” with three cheers first for His Lordship and then three more for Lady Clarendon. The Charter Mayor began with the King’s reply to their telegram, which he concluded: “the King trusts that the Borough of Watford may long prosper and flourish.” Lord Clarendon said he hoped so too and “they could all assure [the King] they would one and all do their best to merit the high honour he had conferred upon them.”

The afternoon featured many speeches and much rejoicing but even when “God Save the King” was sung, that wasn’t the end of Charter Day. Still to come was a firework display in Cassiobury Park. It was so popular three people were crushed leaving the Park and 16 suffered “fainting fits” but it seems the worst injury in the evening was “a burn of the eye from a firework spark”. A great time was clearly had by most, if not all.

With thanks to Lynda Bullock and Stephen Danzig for the photos

and the Watford Observer for report and photos

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