Sunday 30 June 2019

A Brief History of West Watford

S.W. Hertfordshire from a map of 1610

West Watford - A Brief History

Much has been researched and written about the town of Watford and Cassiobury, but our research to date (2019) has concentrated particularly on West Watford. We now feel it time to spread our wings, so to speak, and widen our area of research to the surrounding areas, as they have much to offer and are often linked to West Watford in some way, however small.  Or perhaps they are simply interesting.

If we go back in time some considerable way and consult the maps and references that are available, we can see that most of our area of interest was field, farm, meadow and marsh. At Hamper Mill, to the south of Brightwells Farm, Roman artefacts were excavated, including part of a trackway.  Further west, Iron Age artefacts were discovered during the construction of Greenhill Crescent.

There were two tracks/roads leading from Hamper Mill and Rickmansworth to Watford, early bridges over the Colne at Hamper Mill and in Moor Lane and at least six  farms on the way to Watford; Hampton Hall Farm, Moor Lane, (this includes the site of Hampton Hall which may also be the site of the medieval manor of Batchworth. It is named for a 14th lord of the manor, William Hampton. The manor house is mentioned in 1520 and may have been extant until 1839. The farm stands in what was its garden area and was built in the 1840s), Tolpits Farm, Brightwells Farm (at one time Hatters Farm), Holywell Farm, Cole Kings and Harwoods Farm. What is left of Tolpits Farm is now Tolpits House on a bend of the road where Moor Lane merges with Tolpits Lane and is part of Merchant Taylors School. Holywell, Cole Kings and Harwoods are gone and only Brightwells remains, which may possibly be as old as, or perhaps older, than the Manor of Cashio. 

There was very little in the way of expansion in the 'town' of Watford from the 12th to the 18th century. The 'one long street' then began to acquire yards and alleyways. In Briton's The Beauties of England & Wales, written in 1807, he describes Watford as a large, populous and busy town, the chief employment of its labouring classes being mainly agriculture, although there being three silk mills. The population of Watford is given as 3,530 and the number of houses 691. By 1850 there are two paper mills besides the silk mills, two breweries and several malt kilns. In 1851 the population is 8,646, yet twenty years later it has increased to 12,071.

A History of Allotments in Watford

The following is a transcript of a talk given by Mary Reid at a meeting of the West Watford History Group in April 2012. 
~ o O o ~ 
Background Information:

I became Chairman of the West Watford and Oxhey Garden and Allotment Society in 1999 and Site Supervisor for my own site (I had had a plot since 1975) soon afterwards.
In 2002 I started researching. I read the Council Minutes up to 1907, cross-referencing with the Watford Observer reports of the meetings up to 1902.
The Watford Museum has a cuttings book of newspaper reports of Council meetings in the First World War - not full, but useful.
As Paddock Road celebrated 120 in 2009, I wanted some more recent information, so have also covered some random years over the decades 20's - 50's.  
I have found some maps which are helpful in identifying these sites, which are no longer here.
Peacocks - 1895, 1900, 1909, 1913
Watford Museum 1951 map of allotments
Ordnance Survey maps and plans - coutresy of Mouchel
Maps of Watford 1766 - 1938 by Mary Forsyth
Aerial photos - 1945/8 - courtesy of Mouchesl
                        1921 Rookery, p 158, Book of Watford
                        1962 Scammells p 273, Book of Watford
1948 Council plans of sites.

The West Watford Sites 

Farm Terrace: Behind Vicarage Road F.C. The second oldest site, set up in 1896.
Holywell: Remaining part of a bigger "Holywell" begun in 1900 where Rose Gardens/Laurence Haines School are now. The Council plan shows how the numbering started there and continued onto the current site. I'm not yet sure of a start date for this section; it is not in the Peacocks 1913, but it is on the Mouchel 1914 Segment A8.
Brightwells: Started around 1959 - on Mouchel, segment A8.
Chester Road:  I'm not sure of the origins - a 1914 map marks it as an old gravel pit. It is not on the Council 1948 plans and the first map I've seen marking it as allotments is 1959. Part of the original Harwoods Farm ?  The 1905 Peacocks map has a small black mark no. 7, as if there was a building, but there was no index.  

Old sites now gone. 
Harwoods Farm:   A private site set up by the Hon. Reginald Capel, son of the 6th Earl of Essex in 1881. It was west of Cassio Road between the West Herts Sports Club and the cemetery. By 1887, there were 8 acres with 110 plots. The land was sold for building and was replaced by the Council site of Farm Terrace. 
Willow Lane:  Bordered by Willow Lane and the extension of Cardiff Road, this was given up in the 80's and is now designated for the new Hospital expansion. The ruins of the old Pest House in the corner would be worth exploring. 
Tolpits Lane:   This pre-dated the current Holywell site and can be seen on the Peacocks 1913 map. It is still shown on a 1960 map, but not 1965 when the pub and church are shown. Westfield School occupies the W section. The full extent is visible on the aerial photo.
West Watford:  This was by the Isolation Hospital (in Tolpits Lane) and was laid out by the Council in 1920 to accommodate people who had lost the extra plots provided during the First World War. 

The Pest House in Watford

The Pest House in Watford

The Watford pest house was situated at the end of Willow Lane, and it was known as Pest House Lane. It was situated near the river Colne and old lime kiln mills. This house was demolished in 1914. It is mentioned in the Book of Watford, and includes an entry about a nurse being paid to look after smallpox sufferers there (see below).
An earlier entry of 1694 in the Vestry Books records: ‘It is ordered that in case of sickness, no physic be allowed to the poor, but in providential distress, plague or small pox, broken bones or wounds’. In May 1738, it is noted that Edward Finch was appointed ‘to look after the poor of the parish as an apothecary, to be paid £12 for the year’, then in March 1749, Mr I Aihway, Surgeon ‘to take care and find suitable medications for the poor for the year enforcing at the rate of £12 per annum and that all surgeons and apothecaries belonging to the town take it alternatively at the same rate’.  In cases of sickness in the workhouse, a separate room was taken as an Infirmary, but in the case of infectious diseases, such as smallpox, there were Pest Houses. These, however, were not always in good repair and in 1754 it was noted that the local pest houses were not fit for the reception of sick persons, estimates being passed for their repair. In 1758 the governorship of the workhouse had passed to William Jennings, who resigned his agreement with not satisfying the Pest House nurse who, for nursing the sick with the smallpox at her annual salary of 10s. per week for nine weeks. It was after agreed that the nurse, for her good services in times for the poor of the parish, be paid the sum of £4.10s. for her nine weeks’ servitude, the Master having refused to do such nursing. The Watford Pest House was situated near the end of Pest House Lane (now Willow Lane alongside Watford General Hospital), some distance from the town (the land surrounding the town at this time being predominantly fields). It is noted in the records of May 1765, that William Jennings, of Hemel Hempstead, was still Governor at a salary of £70 per annum. Probably the same William Jennings who drew up the contract between himself, along with his executors and administrators and the Churchwardens and Overseers in 1765.

Colne Valley Narrow Gauge Railway

The Colne Valley Light Railway

The Colne Valley Water Company opened the Eastbury Pumping Station near Watford in 1873. In 1931/1932, the company opened a narrow gauge railway connecting the pumping station with the LNWR's standard gauge branch line that ran between Watford and Rickmansworth.  The 2.0' narrow gauge line ran southeast from a private siding on the LNWR (the remains of which can still be seen) across the fields of Brightwell Farm, crossing the River Colne via a relatively substantial plate girder bridge. The line ended in a yard at the pumping station.

Coal and salt were delivered by the LMS via its Watford to Rickmansworth branch line as far as the Brightwells Farm transfer sidings and transferred to the Water Company's own 2.0' gauge wagons, then hauled the short distance by one of two Ruston Hornsby twin cylinder 16hp diesel locomotives. The coal was to power the pumping station and salt and chlorine were used for the water softening plant.

When the pumping station switched from coal to diesel power in 1956, the use of the railway declined significantly, though chlorine and salt were still carried by rail.
The line closed in 1967 and the two locomotives (RH166015, 4wDM, 1932 and RH1662024, 4wDM, 1933)  were purchased for preservation by the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum near Arundel in West Sussex.

Watford Workhouse Bricks

Watford Workhouse Bricks

The building fronting Vicarage Road next to the football ground, formerly known as Shrodells, was initially the Watford Union Workhouse. One of the courtyards at the rear was the exercise yard for the male inmates and on two of the walls are a number of bricks etched with a name and a date (approximately 50 in all). They were likely inscribed by the same person (perhaps a particular inmate with stone mason training) during the years from 1845 to 1858 and show the names of those who died in the workhouse and a date. They are probably the only memorial these men had and as such, are unique not only to workhouse history, but to social history as a whole. Although graffiti has been found in some former workhouses, usually in the day wards/rooms used by casuals, there does not appear to be any other place with etched bricks such as those at Watford.

Work has been done by one member in particular to match up the names on the bricks with the actual people who resided in the House. Using workhouse death records for the Watford area and census records, all the bricks have been researched and the Group has put together a Book of Remembrance (held in the Group's Archives).



The 1862 Epsom Derby was run on 4th June with a huge field of 34 horses, the largest ever recorded at the Derby.  When James 'Jim' Goater refused to ride Caractacus in favour of Goater's brother's horse, the Sprite, Mr Snewing's stable boy John Parsons, believed to be about 16 years old and reported to be the youngest jockey ever to win the Derby, was given the ride, as he had in the horse's three previous races.  The horses made three false starts before the race got underway with Caractacus being a distant outsider. Yet Caractacus won by a neck from Buckstone and Neptunus. An objection was raised by Lord Stamford, which was not upheld and then, when all the jockeys and saddles were weighed post race, Parsons did not initially meet the 122 lbs requirement weight and only the adding of the bridle to the tack prevented disqualification.  

"Caractacus, whose wondrous shape
Sets every country mouth agape-
And if, of the outsiders there,
One horse should pass the winning chair,
Enrolled in the successful three,
Be sure Caractacus is he."
—Orange Blossom, Bell's Life 

Caractacus was described as a bay colt that stood 15.1 hands high, with a “light” neck, fine shoulders, good girth and sound feet. He had a large white blaze, a white sock on his right front foot and a grey full-stocking on his right hind leg. He had a “corky” personality and possessed refined movement, leading him to be described as a “slashing goer.”   

As a yearling, Caractacus was bought for 250 guineas by the trainer William Day, acting on behalf of a London publican named Charles Snewing who also was a veterinary surgeon. Allegedly, the colt was named 'Caractacus' because Snewing had admired a statue of the British chieftain 'Caractacus bound in chains' at the 1851 Exhibition. He is reported to have said, "If ever I try a horse good enough I'll call him Caractacus, and win the Derby with him". In spring 1861, the two-year-old colt was moved to a stable at Harpenden in Hertfordshire, where his training was managed by Robert "Bob" Smith.  After the Derby win Caractacus was retired to stud in 1863, with Snewing retaining ownership. He was a breeding stallion first at the Highfield Paddock near St Albans for an annual fee of 20 guineas. He was moved to the Holywell Stud Farm in Watford sometime before 1872. Caractacus serviced approximately 40 mares per season while in Britain before being sold for £7,000 to Mr. Strass who exported him to St Petersburg at the end of the 1872 breeding season. Caractacus sired about 57 foals in Russia, none of which were successful racers or sires. He died in 1878 at the Russian Imperial Stud in Hrenoosky.


Isolation Hospital 

Through the 18th and up to the late 19th century, if you were unfortunate enough to contract an infectious disease you had three choices, go to the Pest House, go into the Work House Infirmary or die. Then in1893 an Act was passed which related solely to the provision of Isolation Hospitals. It stated that on application of 25 or more rate payers the local authority had to provide an Isolation Hospital. If you were in receipt of Poor Relief for 14 days prior to admission then your treatment would be paid from the Poor Rate, any other pauper patient would be paid for from the general rates. Anyone else was liable to pay for themselves, expenses to be paid on discharge or out of the estate should they die in hospital. This Act did not cover sufferers of VD or TB. VD patients were still sent to the Work House Infirmary and TB patients went to special Sanatoriums. Holywell Hospital, at this time, was situated on the Work House site.

So the search began for a suitable site for the Watford Isolation Hospital and negotiations began for the purchase of the land. At this point the Earl of Essex stepped in and offered four acres of a nineteen acre arable field called Spring Field free of charge which was one and a half miles from Watford. Some cynics claimed that this was a ploy on his part, as the land he owned around the proposed site would decline in value, but whatever the reason the land was accepted and the building began. It was built by J and W Waters to a design by Mr Charles Ayres, one of three who submitted designs. It was located in Tolpits Lane and took 17 months to complete at a cost of £12,058.

The floors were oak blocks set in concrete. Heat was provided by fireplaces and open stoves in the middle of the wards. Ventilation was vents in the roof and windows and air inlets in the wall below bed height. There were four blocks containing 10 wards accommodating 42 beds. There were two discharge blocks, a mortuary, a laundry, a disinfection station and a Porters Lodge (see photo gallery). The Administrative block contained bedrooms, doctor’s office, dining room and sitting room for the nurses, the dispensary and the kitchen. A telephone was installed. In the grounds there was an orchard, kitchen garden and a poultry run to supply fresh eggs, meat and vegetables for the hospital. There was even a stable for the horse used for ambulance duty.
The opening ceremony was performed with great pomp at 3pm on the 24th March 1896 by Lady Essex. Holywell Hospital (where Watford General Hospital is now) was placed under a caretaker to be used for Small Pox cases as this disease was to be kept separate from the others. Dentons Hospital (site of which is still unknown) was to be dismantled and re-erected on the Isolation Hospital site. Patients began to move in on 4th April transferred from Holywell Hospital. The main diseases treated were Small Pox, Scarlatina (Scarlet Fever), Diphtheria, Enteric Fever (Typhoid and Paratyphoid), Erysipelas (Acute Skin Infection) and any other dangerous infectious disease.

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