Thursday, 2 July 2020

Rembrandt House

Rembrandt House in Whippendell Road is a locally listed Edwardian building from the early 1900s, once the Watford Speedometer and Magneto Works. They supplied speedos for the Vickers Vimy’s first transatlantic flight in 1919 and also manufactured all Rolls Royce engine magnetos until 1932. Later the building housed printing works associated with the Sun Engraving Company and Rembrandt Photogravure.

North & Sons of Watford - timeline, taken from Graces Guide
of Watford, Herts. (1923)
1839 Formed as a watch-making company
1904 Commenced making automotive components
1905 Moved to Watford
1920 February. Issued catalogue of magnetos. [1]
1920 October. Exhibited at the Commercial Motor Exhibition at Olympia with magneto equipment for commercial vehicles. [2]
1926 Employing 630 on a 115,460 sq. ft. factory
1927 Watford magnetos.
1933 North and Sons Ltd, then one of the leading manufacturers of magnetos and also a manufacturer of speedometers and other instruments for motor vehicles, was purchased by Lucas in 1933 for £22,347. Lucas subsequently recovered half the purchase price from SmithsJoseph Lucas Ltd took over the magneto side of the business and Smiths the instrument side.

Below is a Timeline of the Sun Engraving Company: taken from

Sun Engraving Company

1911 Edward Hunter and his partners established a new firm at Milford House, just off the Strand in London.
1918 Absorbed the Mezzogravure Co.
1919 Sun Engraving absorbed Andre Sleigh and Anglo and consolidated all production operations at Whippendell Road, Watford.
1932 Sun Engraving acquired the Storey Brothers interests in Rembrandt Intaglio Printing Co; Storeys moved the company from London to Watford, and renamed it Rembrandt Photogravure. 
The story of Rembrandt Intaglio Printing Co is an interesting one and this link tells you about them:  
1934 moved the Rembrandt operations to Watford, renamed as Rembrandt Photogravure.
Developed large rotary photogravure facility to produce magazines and catalogues. By about 1935, the firm was producing 70% of Britain’s mass-market magazines.
1937 Odhams Press was one of the largest customers; made an offer to Sun Printer’s owners to buy their company, which was declined. Odhams than set up its own photogravure printing operation in North Watford - Odhams (Watford) Ltd[1].
WWII Printed propaganda material as well as all manuals of aerial reconnaissance photographs used for the invasion of Europe. The firm was also involved in the production of munitions, and in activities connected with the production of the atomic bomb.
1945 Sold the printing operations to Hazell, Watson and Viney of Aylesbury. Formed Hazell Sun Group.
1968 The engraving company was sold to C. and E. Layton Ltd. and ceased operations at the Whippendell Road site.



Photographs copyright Lynda Bullock 2012

The link below will take you to the detailed recollections of Mr John Castle who worked at  Rembrandt Photogravure (1955-61) and Sun Printers (1961–66).  Illustrating the account are several photographs including one of staff members outside the Highwayman Public House in Tolpits Lane. 

In later years Rembrandt House passed into multi-occupancy use, housing at one time Castile Games and Toys Ltd by Rembrandt Games Ltd, which included jigsaw puzzles.
Parts of the building were still in use in the 1990s, but once vacated, the site of 3.4 acres was acquired by Henley Homes to develop into apartments. The industrial buildings at the rear were demolished to make way for flats.
The project by Henley involved the conversion and restoration of the locally-listed Edwardian print works into 43 modern apartments, where the exterior had become dilapidated, the windows and roof needed replacing, the brickwork was dirty and the decorative details of the plasterwork had eroded away. The restoration of the decorative plasterwork frieze and pediment would require a specialist trade, but it was key to completing the restoration, so this went ahead. The missing parts were recreated using skilled moulding techniques and the rest was gently cleaned and stabilised, before all being repainted in a neutral stone shade. The surrounding brickwork was also cleaned by hand to ensure that the surviving decorative detail was not further eroded. For this conversion Henley Homes won the Regeneration/Restoration Award in the International Design and Architecture Awards 2017. 


Photographs copyright Lynda Bullock 2020

A last point of interest is the feature on the exterior wall towards the lower end of the building. Perhaps it once displayed a plaque for the Speedometer and Magneto Works? (The writer of this piece has not, so far, been able to find any photo depicting this).

Photograph copyright Lynda Bullock 2020

Though now defaced, I believe this is Henry James Wise, Architect 1873 - 1940

- oOo -


Timeline taken from:

Directory of British Architects

New to Watford - Blog December 2016

- oOo -

If anyone has any recollections of working in Rembrandt House, we would be happy to hear from you.


Wednesday, 10 June 2020


A Timeline of WEMCO - Whippendell Marine Company

Whippendell Marine can trace its history back over 100 years to the early days of electro-mechanical technology. Over the years the Company has been an innovator of products for the controls industry and its equipment and systems can be found in a broad range of industrial applications across the globe.

1900 - Thomas Kesnor & Co Ltd., founded in Fulham, London.

1911 - The Company moved to its purpose built site on Whippendell Road, Watford.

In 1916 The Company changed its name to the Watford Electric & Manufacturing Company Limited as a consequences of its concentration on Automatic Switchgear.

The 1930's saw the Company grow rapidly with the development of many patented devices for motor starters, such as the Eddy Drag Retarding Device. In 1936 it became a public company listed on the London Stock Exchange.

During WWII the Company's output was concentrated on manufacturing for the armed forces, including electrical assemblies for the de Havilland Mosquito, and control gear for the Royal Navy, the foundation of today's business.

Throughout the 1950s the Company was active in many areas of industry, and in particular was building large switchboards and motor control centres for the power generation and water treatment industries.

During the 1960's the Company developed a range of modern contactors and fuse switches, as well as its shockproof MCA contactor range for use in Naval Applications. These components are still in use today across a wide range of industries and in the most demanding Naval Applications.

In 1967 the Company was bought by Harvey Hubbell Inc. of the United States for it's range of standard control products such as the UCA contactors and the UFS fuse switches.

1975 saw a management buyout of the systems business and the creation of Whippendell Electrical Manufacturing Company (Watford) Ltd (WEMCO). The new Company continued to supply a broad range of industries but with a special emphasis on Naval and Mercantile Marine applications.

During the 1980's the focus of the business switched more to Naval and Marine applications and the Company won major contracts on the Trafalgar Class and Vanguard Class nuclear submarine programmes.

With business expanding, the Company acquired The Electrical Apparatus Company (UK) Ltd., which helped expand its portfolio into embarked aviation ground power systems.

2000 - Development of the latest ground power control system was completed and the Company was awarded a contract from the UK MoD to supply a capability upgrade to HMS Invincible. 2 years later a further system was awarded for HMS Illustrious.

2004 - The Acquisition of RAMAC Engineering Ltd., in 2004, confirmed the Company's position as the leading supplier of aviation ground power systems to the UK Royal Navy and one of the world leaders in the field. Further contracts were awarded for the supply of the aviation ground power system to the Type 45 AAWD and a capability upgrade to the Type 23 frigates.

2005 - The Electrical Apparatus Company is renamed Whippendell Marine and the naval and marine operations of all the businesses are brought under one company.

2010s - The Company expands its support business and is awarded a contract to support aviation ground power systems across the UK RN and RFA fleet. Work also continues for the Astute Class submarines and in 2013 Whippendell Marine is selected to design and supply the aviation system for the new MARS fleet tankers.

2015 - Whippendell Marine was awarded Supplier of the Year by BAE Systems Marine Submarine Solutions for its work on the Astute programme.

2019 - After 107 years in Watford, Whippendell Marine moved to new premises in Milton Keynes, providing a modern manufacturing facility within a greener environment and more secure building.

Photographs copyright Lynda Bullock


In January 2018 plans to redevelop "an icon of Watford Industrial Heritage" were released. 

Oakford Homes planned to turn the Whippendell Marine site on Whippendell Road into 81 homes comprising 51 one-bedroom and also 27 two-bedroom apartments. In a letter to residents of the area and ahead of their planning application, Oakwood Homes stated that:
"All the buildings on site are in a poor state of repair and there has been no interest from other companies to buy the site for continued employment use due to concerns about access for larger lorries and the changing nature of the area".  

As of 2020 the site is under development. 


Watford Observer - January 2018

Photographs by Lynda Bullock taken 2012

Monday, 18 May 2020

Tolpits Lane

'There is only one street named Tolpits Lane making it unique in Great Britain' so perhaps it is worth writing about.

From an ‘Anonymously Recorded History of Croxley Green’ – Croxley Green History Project:-

The name Tolpits had existed well before Wolsey’s time as ‘Tolpade’ in 1364, evolving to ‘Tolput’ in 1803 and ‘Twopits’ in 1822 (as noted on an 1822 Ordnance Survey Map and still referred to as Twopits in 1862). According to a Watford Rural District Guide, Tolpade seems to come from ‘toll path’ and was an alternative name for Cassio Mill mentioned in 1086.

About 1416, the Manor of the More (later Moor Park) was conveyed to William Flete (Fleet) who, a few years later in 1435, put up a claim to have a right of way for himself and his cattle from the More across the fields to the market place and church of Watford; in other words, along what would become Tolpits Lane. The Abbot of St Albans went to law and William Flete failed to gain his point. The More did not get its road to Watford till a century later when a greater Cardinal, even than Beaufort - Cardinal Wolsey who, after enlarging the house, sought to also enlarge the park by 170 acres. Seizing land to secure the building of Tolpits Lane, he expelled one of his tenants from a messuage (farmhouse or cottage) called Tolpotts and rebuilt it nearby.

Another story of the common rights is associated with this.  The (Little) Tolpits Cottage (built c1640) caught fire and the villagers turned out en masse to extinguish it.  As a mark of gratitude the tenant is said to have granted the use of the Moor to the villagers for all time as common grazing land for cattle and horses.  Unfortunately the date of this particular event is lost in antiquity and it cannot be said whether it was before or after Wolsey’s time (but Tolpits Cottage still exists).  The dictionary definition of “Moor” is “poor, peaty, untilled ground, often covered with heath”, so the “tenants of the manour” are in any case probably grimly standing their last ground!

According to Alan W Ball’s Street and Place Names In Watford, ‘Tolpits appears in 1365 as Tolpade, which had become Tollepathe by 1529 with a mention of Tolpott bridge in 1594. It seems to have been some form of toll path with the ‘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 eighteenth century provided ‘Tolpulls’ as another variant in the form of the name.’
Tolpits Farm stood on the corner of Tolpits Lane (just up from Little Tolpits Cottage) opposite Olds Approach and is now part of Merchant Taylor’s school.

In Fitzherbert’s “Book of Surveying and Improvement”, published in 1539, he describes the system of communal agriculture then in use.  “To every townshyppe that standeth in tillage in the playne country, there be errable lands to plowe, and sowe, and leyse to tye or tedder theyr horses and mares upon, and common pasture to kepe and pasture their catell beestes, and shepe upon, and also they have meadowe grounds to get theyr hay upon.”  

Thus we find in Croxley ancient reference to “The Common Moor for the Tennants of Croxley Manour”, the Horse Moor, and Lott Mead. Stories persist of the maintenance of common rights in Croxley, and it is notable that in 1886 when Dickinson’s Mill was greatly expanded, land was purchased by the firm from Lord Ebury to be exchanged for Common Moor land adjoining the Mill.

It was noted, even in the early part of the 20th century, that the exercise of Common Rights persisted with dairymen’s cows pastured on the Common Moor by day, and driven home (as required by ancient law) by night. Cattle are still grazed on the Moor from June to October, but they do not have to be driven home again at the end of the day! The “Commoners” of today are the surviving representatives of those tenants with property entitled to Common rights, and as such they have some say in matters concerned with the Green. Although the land lies almost entirely within the parish of Watford, the inhabitants of Watford have no rights with respect to it.

Tolpits Lane becomes Moor Lane just after you cross the River Colne on the way from Watford to Rickmansworth.


‘Anonymously Recorded History of Croxley Green’ – Croxley Green History Project

British History Online - Parishes, Rickmansworth 

Various Maps of the area

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Taynton Murder

The sad and tragic case of the Taynton Murder in West Watford

The following developed from an original post by Brenda Ambrosone on The Original Watford Memories and History Group page in April 2020. The post garnered a lot of interest and the following accounts are from various contributors, a large amount of information being from a Mr Rob Cassidy who submitted the following:

From a newspaper article posted by Mr Rob Cassidy from:

MURDER AT WATFORD. A man and woman named Taynton, residing at South-terrace, Vicarage-road, Watford, went out about eight o'clock on Monday night, leaving in the house a son, Walter Joseph, aged 15, and a daughter, Jessie Maria, aged ten. When the mother returned at half- past ten she could not get admission to-the house, the doors being locked. She prevailed upon a neighbour named Williams to force an entrance by the back window, and he found the daughter lying on the floor of the living room in a pool of blood, the brains being scattered about her. A hammer was lying by her side, covered with blood and hair. The poor girl was still alive, but she expired immediately after the arrival of Dr. Stradling's assistant. The boy was returning home, apparently unconcerned, about half-past eleven, and was arrested in the road by the deputy chief constable of the county, who was waiting for him. On the boy's clothes were found stains of blood; blood was also found on the thumb of his right hand. The inquest was held on Tuesday evening at the Police-station, Watford, before Mr. R. W. Brabant, Deputy Coroner. Joseph Taynton, the father, said he left home at twenty minutes to nine. The deceased and her brother Walter Joseph were then in the kitchen, Walter reading and the deceased knitting. They appeared quite happy. When witness returned, about ten minutes to eleven, he was told what had occurred by the. police. He had left his tools in the kitchen. Caroline Taynton, the mother, said she left home at a quarter to eight, and returned just after ten. She knocked at the door, but got no answer. She heard a moaning inside. She called Mr. Williams, a neighbour, then went into the house by the scullery window, and opened the front door for her. The deceased was lying on her back in the kitchen, covered with blood. She had in her hands the knitting needles and piece of stocking she was knitting. Walter could not be found. Superintendent Hammerstone produced a shoemaker's hammer, which he found in the kitchen, covered with blood. He apprehended the prisoner at half-past eleven, and found stains of blood on his right hand and clothes. He cautioned him. The boy said nothing. Dr. Cox said the deceased died a few minutes after his arrival. There were three puncture wounds above and a little in the front of the right ear, and a large depressed fracture of the skull on the whole of the right side of the head, about five inches long and four inches wide. The wounds were such as would be caused by both the flat and the sharp ends of the hammer. They could not have been caused by a fall, or self-inflicted. The jury returned a verdict that there was not sufficient evidence to show by whom the injuries were inflicted.

Mr Cassidy then provided a link to the Journal of Mental Science, Vol 35, p385 - 389

(copy and paste the link into your search bar if you wish to see actual pages, but it is reproduced below in full)

'Case of Walter Taynton, Charged with killing his Sister, by Geo. H. Savage, M.D.'

"Case of Walter Taynton, Charged with Killing his Sister. By Geo. H. Savage, M.D. From time to time it is worth while recording trials in which persons have been tried for crimes which might have been com mitted while the criminal was of unsound mind, and it seems to me that the case of "Walter Taynton is one of such cases, for though there was some conflict in medical evidence, it was of small moment when compared with the ruling of the judge and the verdict of the jury. In this case a boy of 15 was charged with killing his little sister, aged 10, without sufficient, if any, cause, and the real question was whether he was to be considered insane and detained at her Majesty's pleasure or if he should be treated as having committed murder or man slaughter and punished accordingly. If he were insane, it seems to me to illogical to send him to prison simply for the reason that in the one case the incarceration would be for a limited time, and in the other it would be indefinite and, as the judge suggested, it would be for life. I had always understood that the consequences were not to be treated of by expert witnesses, that, in fact, they had to give an opinion on the facts irrespective of the result of the evidence. If this be not the aspect which we should assume in these cases, one would be inclined to say that as soon as one is called in, if opposed on principle to capital punishment, one ought to stretch every point to avoid the consequences. I have not done this hitherto, and I do not think the case under consideration will alter my action in such cases. I shall now give some details of the case, adding the notes as supplied to me concerning the crime itself. To begin with, the boy is a very small, ugly-looking lad, with a low forehead, narrow palate, and heavy, sullen aspect. His father is a shoe maker, a steady, sober man, whose paternal uncle died in Wandsworth Asylum, and whose maternal aunt committed suicide. The mother, a delicate-looking woman, is said to be healthy in mind and body. She has heart-disease and curiously coloured pink eyes, without being a true albino. Her father is said to have died of "paralysis and damaged brain," but it must be remembered that he was 77 at the time of his death The boy had convulsions when only 18 months old. He was not noticed as in any way very peculiar, though very back ward in walking and also in learning to speak; he could never dress himself, and up to 12 years old his mother actually had to be present when he was dressing. When old enough to go to school he was found to be very dull, especially in anything to do with figures, so that he could not be made to do the simplest sums of addition. This defect was never overcome, so that as time went on he failed at all the standards for arithmetic, and the school inspector made a special report on him, excusing him from his examinations at school as "obviously dull." He was solitary, not given to playing with his fellows; he was sullen, at times easily roused so as to strike his companions. He seemed all this time to be greatly given to reading books, but both his parents and the schoolmaster said he seemed to carry away nothing from his reading. The books selected were quite natural ones for a boy—books of travel and adventure, and they were not markedly sensational, or what are generally known as bad books. He had no special aptitude, and when he left school his father wished him to take up his trade, but found him hopelessly dull, so that he could not be taught even the most elementary parts of his trade. His father did not think this was due to any special distaste to the work.* He would get away and read his books, but never entered into home-life and pleasures like the rest. He was not a bad or untruthful boy; he went to chapel and to Sunday school; he was not emotionally religious. It should be remembered that he was ugly, and that, with a big, fat nose and slight strabismus, it is not surprising that he accused the boys of making fun of him, and he is said also to have complained, rightly or wrongly, of his little sister doing the same. This was not substantiated; but I am quite willing to admit that this may have been the case for a time, and that later he passed into a state of morbid self-consciousness, in which he imagined others made these remarks.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Holywell Farm

Some photos of Holywell Farm

From the Sale Catalogue 1887

Britain From Above photograph 1921, Holywell Farm bottom centre

Holywell Farm, 1958

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

The River Colne

From History of Watford - Trade Directory, 1884 by Henry Williams

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 sporwas 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 Neuch√Ętel 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) 

Boats and Bathing

In January 1926 Mr Andrew-Artha was given permission to provide and hire out boats on the new Corporation’s water at Wiggenhall. This was initially 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.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

West Watford Snippets

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."

Cole Kings

Cole Kings Farm

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 Lane –   

“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

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Two Watford Workhouse Boys

The Two Watford Workhouse Boys Who Went To War

Some time ago, while researching the history of the Watford Workhouse and Watford General Hospital, I was given a scrapbook of old newspaper cuttings and photographs of Watford General Hospital – or more correctly, the building of the new Shrodells Hospital as it was named back then - and in it there was a report from the Watford Post, dated February 1962, about St Barnabas’s Chapel. A chapel had been incorporated into the workhouse when it was built, but the late Countess of Essex, who took much interest in the institutions of the town, opened a subscription list for the purpose of building a place of worship for the inmates and this resulted in the erection of the chapel, in 1870, in the grounds on the west side.  It was originally for use by the Workhouse inmates – but services continued until after the Second World War - then over the years it fell into disrepair and was to be demolished. (see photos in the Gallery - Places of Worship)

The newspaper report commented on various items that were in the Chapel that were to be kept and incorporated elsewhere; the chapel bell was to go to St Oswald’s Church in Croxley Green, the stained glass window and the font to the Church of St Bede, also at Croxley and the altar ornaments were to be transferred to a replacement chapel within the new hospital.

But the article also referred to several brass memorial plaques. One was dedicated to Louisa, Countess of Essex, which apparently read:  “in memory of Louisa, Countess of Essex as a grateful record of her Christian kindness to the inmates of the Union House and to the warm interest she took in the building of the Chapel”.  There was one to William Plaistowe, a relieving officer in Watford for 32 years who  “performed his duties with a conscientious regard for the interest of the ratepayers and with justice and kindness to the poor”. 

But what was more unusual, was a plaque in memory of Two Workhouse Boys – James Gurney and Daniel Gordon: 

“These two boys who, “after being educated in this house,  joined the band of the 24th Regiment and fell in the service of their country at the Battle of Isandlwana in Zululand, January 22, 1879”.

Making a note of this information about the Chapel, I went on to research some other things, until a while later a letter appeared on the Nostalgia Page in the Watford Observer from a Mr Tim Needham. He was asking if anyone knew the whereabouts of a plaque relating to the workhouse boys. So, along with a fellow group member, we set off on a search to see if we could locate anything to do with this request. We contacted various people, including the museum, the library etc. and as both of us had worked at the Hospital for several years, got in touch with people who had also worked there for many years in the hope someone might remember something. We made a thorough search of all the places where we thought the plaque might have ended up. We even got access at one point to some underground cellars. But the replacement chapel mentioned in the newspaper article was no longer as it was originally and we soon realised the Boys’ plaque (and probably the others too) was long gone, likely disposed of or melted down. Afterall, the chapel was demolished in 1962 – over 50 years ago. So I let Mr Needham know we had drawn a blank and moved on. 

Then at the beginning of January 2013, a Mr Paul King from Worcester contacted the group, also about the workhouse boys.  He’d seen the piece I’d written (on our old website) and offered some further information.

He wrote:  “I understand that Daniel and his friend, James Gurney, spent time in the Watford Union Workhouse prior to their joining the 24th Regiment of Foot (The Warwickshire Regiment) in December 1877. Daniel enlisted at Chatham, Kent on December 6, 1877, aged 13 years and James enlisted at Chatham, Kent on December 29, 1877, aged 15 years." 

Mr King was also the ‘keeper’ of the Anglo-Zulu medal awarded to Daniel Gordon and he sent a photo -

Daniel Gordon's Medal (photo courtesy Mr King)

A little later, we heard from Mr Needham again, who had been researching records and hoping, like us, to discover the whereabouts of the brass plaque. However, he’d also drawn a blank and so had turned his efforts towards procuring donations for a replacement memorial. 

It was then that I began to realise the significance of these two boys, not just to the history of West Watford, but to Workhouse history and the history of the Regiment into which they’d enlisted.

Now it had been hoped that any replacement plaque could be commissioned with help from the War Memorials Trust, but in order for the project to be assessed, the Trust needed as much information as possible about the original and would only fund a replacement if evidence of the original design and exact wording was available. As the plaque was missing, now presumed lost, the Trust were unable to help.  


Now it wasn’t unusual for boys from poor backgrounds, or the workhouse, to “take (in this case) the Queen’s shilling.  Orphans or infants at 14 years old, could enlist for life.  14 was the prescribed age for the admission of boys, except under very special circumstances.  Enlisting in the military was a way to escape the grinding poverty and rampant illiteracy of the age.  In inland Unions, the Army was a common choice of career and men and boys were actively recruited from workhouses.  A survey in 1860 showed that of a survey of 125 workhouse ‘graduates’, the largest single group, twenty three, had ‘gone for a soldier’ and many school superintendents claimed that, apart from its vocational value, military drill was beneficial to all boys.  

"Instead of the dull, listless, unintelligent air of the boys, with a careless attention to their person, mixed with the coarsest and rudest of manners, there was now an unmistakable intelligence, a quick sharp eye and ear, a smartness and pride in the boys’ personal appearance. Their marching in their weekly walks was the pride and talk of the town". So wrote the master of the Wolverhampton Workhouse.  While this may not have applied directly to Watford, boys (and girls) did receive an education and were used to discipline and many workhouses, often with public subscriptions, purchased instruments and gave musical instruction.

So, you could, in certain regiments, enlist as a Boy and gradually work your way until you reached the age of 18 when you were considered a man; this in an age when you you were considered a youth until the age of 21 and could not get married below this age without consent of parents and a soldier had to ask permission from his commanding officer.

Now the information I originally had showed that Daniel Gordon enlisted on 6th December 1877 and James Gurney on the 29th December, aged 13 and 15 years respectively. They were described by Mr King as ‘friends’ and both from the workhouse, so I think it reasonably fair to assume they may have travelled to Kent together. But yet further research and evidence from the 1879 Zulu War website suggested the boys may have enlisted either on the same day, or at least within a day of each other as the original medal roll gives Daniel Gordon’s number as 1491 and James Gurney’s as 1494. There is also a birth record for James that has come to light which is recorded for July 1863 and further evidence to suggest he enlisted on 20th December 1877, not the 29th.  Whatever the facts of the matter (and as I and others have discovered, the records can be quite difficult to unravel), towards the end of December 1877, James and Gordon enlisted in the 24th (The 2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot.

Photograph taken at Chatham, of a Boy who enlisted in the 24th (The 2nd Warwickshire Regiment of Foot) at about the time the two Workhouse Boys did

The use of the word “Boy” in the context of this research was an actual rank in the British Army (which later equated to Private), and was applied to lads not yet 18, many of whom were the sons of men serving in the regiment.  Part of the regulations for enlistment stated: 

Now you read a lot about Drummers or Drummer Boys, but they were seldom “Boys” as in the rank.  Of the 12 Drummers killed at Isandlwana,  the youngest was 18 and the oldest in his 30s. But there were five BOYS who were killed in that battle, most of them in the 24th’s band, (into which our two lads enlisted) and the youngest was just 16. 

But returning to the plaque in St Barnabas's Chapel. The wording on the original plaque, as far as we know from the newspaper article, had said - 'joined the band of the 24th Regiment'.  This was the 24th (The 2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot (later to become the Welsh Borderers). 

The Workhouse would have given the boys a limited education and they would have attended Sunday School. There’s no sure way of knowing if the boys had been taught to play instruments, but from some recent research of the Union Accounts, there are references to payment of money to the Band Master for salary and musical instruments (1879) and there are records of pupils having won prizes in local music competitions.  But, no sooner had the boys enlisted than they were on their way to South Africa. All the way from the Union Workhouse in Vicarage Road, Watford, to the Cape Colonies on the other side of the world.  

At this point it may be helpful to have some background to the Anglo-Zulu wars. In brief: 

The build up to the war began in 1877 (the year the boys enlisted) when the British annexed the Boer republic of Transvaal. Sir Henry Bartle Frere, a British colonial administrator and a rather scheming man by all accounts, was sent to Cape Town with the task of uniting South Africa under a single British confederation.   But Frere soon realised that uniting the Boer republics, independent black states and British colonies could not be realised until the powerful Zulu kingdom on its borders had been defeated.  London didn’t really want war with the Zulus, so Frere turned to the new British governor of Natal and the Transvaal, Sir Theophilus Shepstone, for reasons to invade. As Shepstone's fragile territories were bordered by Zululand, he formally outlined how regular border incursions by the Zulus were affecting the stability of the region.  He went further and expressed concern over the increasing amount of firearms falling into Zulu hands, further fuelling the case for war.

So in December 1878, an impossible ultimatum was sent to the Zulu king Cetshwayo, requiring him not just to disband his army, but to dissolve the Zulu Kingdom. Knowing that Cetshwayo would never accept the terms, Frere then authorised Lord Chelmsford, a supremely arrogant man, to lead a British invasion force into Zululand, and this also despite objections from leading members of Cape Colony’s high society and from Great Britain itself.)

Part of the force that was sent to South Africa included the two workhouse boys, Daniel Gordon and James Gurney and I have been able find a record tracking the 24th Regiment’s journey to South Africa just after the boys enlisted.

England to South Africa

They enlisted in December 1877 and on the 28th January 1878 a dispatch was received from the Horse Guard which directed the 2nd Battalion 24th to be held in readiness to embark for the Cape. 

On 1st February the Battalion left Chatham for Portsmouth, where it embarked in HM Troopship Himalaya, and sailed the next day. The number on board was 24 officers and 849 other ranks. 

HM Troopship Himalaya in 1854

On 28th February, the ship reached Simon’s Bay (or Simonstown), near the Cape.   

They left Simon’s Bay on 6th March, and the ship was sighted at East London on the 9th. But the surf was apparently too low and dangerous to land and it wasn’t until the 11th that all the Company got ashore.The journey had taken about 6 weeks.

The Companies were then boarded onto trains and hurried off to King William’s Town. From there they marched to the front and virtually straight into war.

Now in South Africa and right the way through the first half of 1878, the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment was engaged in active operations. The same CHRONOLOGICAL SUMMARY of 1878-79” that detailed their journey recorded:  The 2nd Battalion 24th, with a detachment of Royal Artillery, which was the only regular force in this part of the country, was split up into detachments of one, two, or three companies, each detachment forming the nucleus of a column, consisting of Europeans and Fingo levies.  (Fingo Levies were made up of the Fengu people, who had arrived in the area in the early 1800s, fleeing from Shaka Zulu’s armies in the east).

From the time it landed, the battalion was engaged in marching, patrolling, or waylaying paths leading to the rebel positions.

Then, on 28th June 1878 The Kaffir War of 77-78 came to an end, and the Colonial Government proclaimed a general amnesty. On the 12th July 1878 seven companies of the 2nd/24th assembled in camp in the Buffalo Poort bush, to refit after the hard work they had gone through, and on the 19th July a telegram arrived ordering the battalion to Natal, where war with Cetshwayo, the Zulu king, was apparently imminent. 

Yet from August, the 2nd Battalion remained encamped in Natal for three months at Pietermaritzburg busily employed in drilling and refitting. War with Cetshwayo had become a foregone conclusion and it came down to just a question of time. Orders were issued for the troops to move gradually towards the frontier, more to allay alarm among the border farmers than as for the preparations for any movement.  

The 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment

On January 11, 1879 - the day the British ultimatum to the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, expired - Lt. General Lord Chelmsford crossed into Zululand at Rorke’s Drift at the head of his Centre Column of nearly 5000 British troops and African auxiliaries. 

The invading British army, laden with an immense network of supply wagons, invaded Zululand and marched in the direction of Ulundi, the Zulu capital. British forces, eager to fight a large battle in which they could unleash their cutting-edge military technology against the vast Zulu army, became increasingly frustrated as the main Zulu army refused to attack and fighting was restricted to a few small skirmishes with Zulu scouts. Concerned that their supply lines were becoming overstretched and that the main Zulu army was still at large, British troops began torturing captive Zulu warriors in an effort to learn the location and tactics of their army. 

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