Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Victoria Schools


A history of Victoria Schools in West Watford

As the demand for land and houses in Watford grew, parcels of land came up for sale. Beginning in 1897, Messrs. Ashby and Brightman made a series of purchases from the Earl of Essex, which resulted in Watford making even more rapid strides than previously. In 1900, 50 acres of Harwoods Farm Estate was purchased for £26,500 (£350 per acre), starting from Cassio Road and adjoining the West Herts Cricket Ground, one acre of this land already having been sold by the Earl of Essex to the Watford School Board for £1,500 for the purpose of Victoria Schools. In November 1901, Messrs Ashby and Brightman purchased a second portion of the estate of about 52 acres, which extended from Harwoods Road to Hagden Lane and Rickmansworth Road. In 1902, Cassiobridge Farm Estate was in the market, approximately 208 acres, extending from Rickmansworth Main Road to the lower end of the boundaries of Lord Ebury's Estate and the Isolation Hospital.  Such was the demand for building at this time that £12,000 worth in plots was sold in the first sale. Harwoods Road, Park Avenue, Chester Road, Durban Road and Mildred Avenue were formed and sewered at this time and also in 1900, the Watford School Board acquired the site for Chater Schools, with a further three quarters of an acre being purchased for an extension to the Victoria Schools. 

Built in 1897, the school began life as ‘Fearnley Street School’ and was one of the first “board schools” of the period.  Previously all schools were private or church run until boards of elected local representatives were set up in each town to provide publicly-owned education for all.

A letter published in the Watford Observer in February 1903 reads:
“On Saturday afternoon last, the new Victoria Boys’ School, Watford, which has recently been erected to meet the growing scholastic requirements of that part of the town in which the present block of buildings named after the late Queen are situate, and more especially that part known as Harwood’s Estate, were formerly opened by Mr E. M. Chater, the chairman of the School Board.

Mr R. A Thorpe, as chairman of the Works Committee, first gave an official description of the new building, the points enumerated being as follows:-  The school is arranged on the central hall system to satisfy the requirements of the Board of Education for 600 children. The central hall is 73ft long by 33ft wide having a gallery 53ft wide across the south end. The class rooms are ten in number, each arranged on the Board of Education scale to accommodate 60 pupils, being 24ft x 24ft. 8in. are are entered from the central hall. They have six ranges of deal desks. The four back rows are on stepped platforms and a space is provided behind the last row to allow the teacher to pass.”
(A footnote to this adds that the schools had been in use since 1897.)


In 1959 a decision was taken by the school governors to move the then named Victoria School to a new site.  By 1963 the Addiscombe Road buildings were out of use and the new Tolpits Lane site was found opposite Scammells.  At that time there were two separate buildings for Boys and Girls. When a large part of the school – main hall and library -  burned down in 1973, it became an all-girls school and the boys were moved to Grange Park School in Bushey (although one block on the site was used for boys whose first language was not English).  


Becoming a community school and Technology College administered by Hertfordshire County Council, the school was renamed Westfield Community Technology College, (by now it had become a mixed school again), converted to academy status on 1 September 2013 and was renamed Westfield Academy. However the school continues to coordinate with Hertfordshire County Council for admissions. 


References:  Watford Observer,  Bob Nunn's Book of Watford - vol 1, Wikipedia

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Recollections of West Watford's Past

The following extracts are taken from the Memoirs and Reminiscences of Watford by Mr John Gloag who was born in the town at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Almond Cottage

In the early years of the 20th century there stood, on a piece of open ground at the corner of Hagden Lane and Tolpits Lane, almost opposite Watford West station, a picturesque little wooden house with a verandah running along its front. 

This house was known as Almond Cottage and was the home for many years of an elderly lady named Mrs Cook. The passing years, however, took their toll and Mrs Cook became frail and less able to manage the daily round. 

As a small boy I have a poignant memory of observing one morning in the early twenties, a horse-drawn wagonette calling at Almond Cottage.  Seated in this wagon were several elderly ladies, each clutching a bundle in which were their sole possessions. Mrs Cook, also carrying a small bundle, was escorted from her cottage and was assisted into the wagon which was then driven away. 

I did not, as a child, realise the full significance of this little scene, but later became aware that Mrs Cook had been conveyed to the Shrodells Institution in Vicarage Road, there to be accepted into the care of the Board of Guardians, where she would spend the rest of her days with a possible loss of identity and freedom. 

This, sadly, was a fate which befell many elderly people who had no means of support in their old age, as pension schemes and Social Security assistance were still future considerations. 

Tolpits Barn

Also in the early years of the 20th century, on land adjacent to Almond Cottage stood a barn, one of the few remaining links with Harwoods Farm, which extended as far as this area. 

At the end of each harvest time, we children would gather at the barn to watch, with interest, the large steam traction engine which supplied the power for a giant threshing machine. The bales of wheat would be brought to the barn on horse-drawn carts from the surrounding farms and would be passed through the threshing machine, accompanied by a loud clanking from the engine and a continuous cloud of dust and chaff. 

On completion, the sacks of wheat were then taken away again in horse-drawn carts to local mills, one of which stood in the Lower High Street, and another at Grove Mill, where the wheat would then be ground into flour. The remaining straw would then be returned to the farms for erection into hay ricks for animal feed during the winter months.   

The barn has long since been demolished and an interesting link with Watford's past has been lost forever. 

Harwoods Farm

Harwoods Farm was an extensive area of farming land which was owned by the Earl of Essex and adjoined his estate at Cassiobury. 

The farmhouse is thought to have stood in Harwoods Road, near the present Chater School building, and as far as can be ascertained, the boundaries of the farm extended along Cassio Road, Merton Road and along Vicarage Road to the line of the railway to Watford West and Croxley. Then back along the Rickmansworth Road to rejoin Cassio Road. 

In the latter years of the 19th century, the Earl of Essex was obliged by financial losses to dispose of a large part of his estate and the farm was sold in its entirety and by the outbreak of the First World War had become completely developed by the building of houses and new roads. This development included the building of the Victoria Schools in Addiscombe Road, the Chater Schools in Harwoods Road, opened in 1908 and St Michael's Church opened for worship in 1912. 

I recall that as a little five year old boy I was presented for admission to Chater Infants School, then only about two minutes' walk from my home in Kings Avenue.  I can remember that in 1918 when Peace was declared, we little children were assembled in the playground and were each given a little Union Jack and we then marched round waving our flags to celebrate the arrival of War's end. 

Another recollection I have is when a company of soldiers were billeted in the main school building and one afternoon we small children were called across by two soldiers standing at an upper window. They then proceeded to throw down various toys and articles which they had removed from the school museum. The noise we made soon attracted some attention and a Sergeant appeared on the scene who stopped this activity and ordered the soldiers to come down and collect back the toys they had distributed. I do not think that at that age we children fully understood the situation and felt somewhat hurt at having these toys taken away again. 

Little or nothing now remains to show the area as farmland and the only remaining links, a large barn on the corner of Kings Avenue and another barn in Tolpits Lane were demolished some years ago. 

Sewage Disposal

By the beginning of the 20th century the main drainage system and the water supply to all houses had been completed and the day of the water pump and the outside privy was becoming a thing of the past. 

One area of concern remained, however, and this was the question of sewage disposal;  a large area of land lying to the west of the branch railway line to Watford West and Croxley Green, stretching down to Brightwells Farm and Tolpits Lane, and on the other side reaching the area now occupied by the Sun Printing Works. 

This open area known as Holywell Farm was owned by the Urban District Council, who arranged for a network of shallow trenches across the entire site, with booster pumps at intervals and a raw sewage was then pumped into these open trenches and left to disintegrate.

In the hot summer weather this would cause clouds of flies and an obnoxious odour would spread across the surrounding area for a considerable distance causing many complaints to the Local Authority by irate householders. 

Some relief was eventually given, however, as in the early 1930s the sewage disposal was linked to the plant at Maple Cross near Rickmansworth and Holywell Farm was allowed to lie fallow for some time. 

The area was eventually developed for building and is now known as the Holywell Estate with streets of houses, shops, schools and a public house. 

(see also "Sewage at Holywell" in the menu on the Home Page)


Friday, 24 January 2020

Sewage at Holywell

In 1849 there was a report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage and Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of the town of Watford ( by George Thomas Clarke, Supt Inspector).

The subject of drainage had frequently been discussed in the five or six years previously at various meetings and the 'existing evils' had been fully admitted, but a want of legislative power had always prevented the application of an effectual remedy. After the passing of the Public Health Act, a meeting was called to consider the propriety of putting in force the "Nuisances Removal Act", but such was the bad condition of the town and the want of the necessary powers in the Nuisances Act to carry out permanent remedies, that, after a long discussion and two adjourned meetings, the petition upon which the inquiry proceeded was determined upon. 

Watford was composed principally of one street about 1½ miles long, built on a ridge sloping southwards to the river Colne. There were scarcely any cross streets, just mainly yards and alleys. There were privies with open cesspools, pigsties, dung heaps loaded with decaying vegetable and animal matter and the slops were generally thrown into the main road. One overflowing cesspool flowed down into another covered with trap-doors in the open foot-way of the main street. There was more than one pond in the town, but these were usually in a dirty state at all times, dried out in summer and offensive. There were also slaughterhouses and along the margins of the town were a number of stagnant ditches and catch-pits. It is not surprising that fever was prevalent at several locations throughout the town. With no main supply, water chiefly came from wells varying from 10 to 60 feet deep worked with buckets and rain water was largely collected from the roofs and stored in butts, tanks or pans.  

Yet due to its position and the great extent of meadow land abutting the Colne, Watford was in an excellent position for the distribution of its sewage as liquid manure. In the early days of the Board of Health, the Earl of Essex took all the sewage of the district, which was distributed over his land at Harwood's farm, being pumped up by steam power from the pumping station in the Colne Valley, just below the workhouse. Yet when the the Earl discontinued to use the sewage on his farm, the Board bought the site, along with the machinery, sheds etc., and the surrounding land and formed tanks for filtration and precipitation, pumping the effluent water on to the land. This continued for a time, but the town and district was growing and inevitably more land was required. This was again acquired from the Earl of Essex and the amount of sewage sent down to the outfall works increased accordingly. This state of things was to attract the attention of Mr Snewing, the owner of Holywell Farm, an estate near the outfall premises. He considered the sewage was not disposed of in a legal manner and obtained an injunction against the Board, restraining them from turning the sewage into the stream. The injunction remained in place for some time, but one assumes was eventually resolved, as more land was purchased and the whole area laid out in terraces. (This land stretched from the Colne below the Holywell farm, right across to Cassiobridge, covering the entire area where now is the residential Holywell Estate, Croxley View, the playing fields and schools). 

The Girl in the Tunnel - Mary Money



In 1864 James William Money aged 23 married 25 year old Susan Wiggs, a former nursery maid in Moffat, Scotland in her home town of St Albans Hertfordshire.

In 1871 they were living with their 3 children in Farnborough, Hampshire. Tragedy struck the family in 1878 when their eldest daughter Mary Sophia died, aged 13, in St Albans, the assumption being that she was either visiting or staying with her grandparents, the Wiggs.

In 1881 the family still resided at St Helens Terrace, Farnborough, but had now grown to 7 children and James was listed as a carpenter. Between 1881 and the end of 1883 the family moved to Watford, where at the beginning of 1884 they had another daughter and named her Mary Sophia, presumably after their daughter who had died six years previously.

Tragedy was to strike a second time in 1886 when, on September 21st, James died in the cottage hospital in Watford aged just 46.

In 1891 the widowed Susan, (listed as a nurse on the census) had moved back with her parents at a Dairy in Bushey Hall Road, where her father was a dairyman, along with her 7 year old daughter Mary. The majority of Mary’s siblings lived at 24 Langley Road where 3 of her brothers were milkmen and one followed in his fathers footsteps as a carpenter; this could have been the family home before James died.

In 1901 Susan had moved to Marlborough Road, Victoria Terrace in Wealdstone with 3 of her children - Alfred, Mary and Frederick - and was listed as living on her own means, while the children were involved with the milk industry; the boys as milk carriers and Mary a dairy shop keeper.

Tragedy was to hit for a third time on the evening of Sunday 24th September 1905 in Merstham Railway Tunnel, Surrey. At 10.45pm William Peacock of the ‘permanent way’ (the men who laid and maintained the track) entered the tunnel and 400 yards in found the still- warm, mutilated body of a woman. Her injuries included a fractured skull, so bad that the top of her skull had been cut away, (attributed to a carriage-wheel), a broken nose, fractures to both thighs, with one leg being severed and a report that she had been disembowelled.

The police were called and they initially speculated that it was a suicide, the woman having walked into the tunnel and been hit by a train. This therory was dismissed when the police examined the tunnel wall adjacent to where the body was found. The soot on the wall had been scuffed in a number of places, the highest at the level of a person standing in a carriage. Police now thought she had fallen from a southbound train, possibly the 9.33pm from Charing Cross which had passed through the tunnel at 10.19pm. It became a case of murder when a white silk scarf was found forced into the womans mouth. The body was stretchered to the Feathers Hotel to await the inquest.  Dr Henry Crickett, a local doctor, examined the body and apart from the injuries already mentioned, scratches and bruises were found on the arms, face and body that may have been sustained during a struggle. There was nothing on the body to aid identification more significantly and there was no ticket or money either. The police circulated a description of the woman in the hope of identifying her.

The following afternoon Robert Money, a dairy farmer from Kingston Hill, viewed the body and identified it as that of his sister Mary Sophia Money, aged 22, a bookkeeper at Bridgers Dairy, Clapham Junction, and this was supported by the laundry marks on her underclothes.
Superintendent James Brice of the Surrey Police had control of the case and was interested in finding Mary’s predecessor as bookkeeper at the dairy; a Miss Isabel Lane whom he thought may be able to give them information about her associates. It is not known if she was ever traced.

Mary lived on the premises of the dairy in Lavender Hill, Clapham. She was on duty that Sunday but at 7pm she said she was going for a little walk and would not be long. A little earlier she had been seen looking at a railway timetable. Could she have been meeting someone in secret? Was the walk just an excuse? Did she keep the meeting before she got on the train?

Another live-in employee, Emma Hone, was asked by police about any male friends that Mary may have had, but she said she did not know of any. She confirmed that Mary had taken a black knitted cotton purse with her, which she believed to be full of money as Mary had been paid. This was never found. Mary was said to be wearing a wide white silk scarf and a hat. Just after leaving the dairy Mary went into Frances Golding’s sweet shop and bought some chocolates. She told Frances she was going to Victoria.  Frances said that she was happy and left laughing.

It seems she was going to a meeting at Victoria, presumably with a member of the opposite sex, but that is just supposition.  A ticket collecter at Clapham Junction identified Mary as a woman he had seen on the platform at 7.20pm; she had said she was going to Victoria and that was the last positive identification until she was found in the tunnel.

The guard on the 9.33pm train remembered seeing a young man and a woman who answered Mary’s description in a first class carriage at East Croydon. He saw them again sitting closer together at South Croydon. At Redhill, beyond the tunnel, he saw the man get off the train from what he thought was the same carriage. The man was described as thin, with a moustache and wearing a bowler hat.  He was never traced. A signalman at Purley Oaks reported that when the train passed his box he saw a couple standing struggling in a first class carriage, but being used to seeing passengers wrestling amorously in the carriages he thought nothing of it. From the evidence it seems that maybe during this struggle Mary began to scream, her scarf was pushed into her mouth to silence her and once in the tunnel the attacker opened the door and threw her out the train, though this is, of course just conjecture.  Mary’s brother Robert named some possible admirers and suspicion soon fell on them, but it appears she had no boyfriend.

One person who was interviewed at the inquest was Charles Bellchambers, a clerk on the London and North-Western Railway. He said he had known Mary for four years, he saw her about once a week or fortnight and last saw her on 18th of September. He was questioned about his movements on 24th September, but he was out of the area at the time.
The Coroner and the jury actually visitied the tunnel to view the soot marks on the wall. The Home Office pathologist Dr William Henry Willcox described the injuries to the jury and explained that some of the scratches and bruises may have been caused by the train, but others had not. It was his opinion that Mary was alive before she left the train.

On Monday 2nd October Mary’s body was transported by train from Merstham, (accompanied by her brother George), and arrived at Charing Cross at 6.26pm. It was handed to Mr G Wiggs, undertaker, who took the body to Watford by road. The polished elm coffin reached Watford at 10.30pm and lay for the night at George’s home in Nascot Street. When the floral tributes were placed on the coffin before its final journey to the Cemetery in Vicarage Road it was almost hidden beneath them.

There was great interest in the funeral and crowds lined the route. The cortege left Nascot Street at 3.40pm and arrived at the cemetery just after 4pm. By this time the crowd was so large that you could not walk on the pavement. The Burial Board had closed the Cemetery to everyone except the mourners to prevent damage to existing graves and to avoid crushing around the graveside. Susan was too ill to attend the funeral, but among the mourners were Mary’s 5 brothers, 3 sisters and various other relations. There were also a couple of people from Bridgers Dairy.

One member of the officiating clergy, Mr J Dinnick of the Primitive Methodist Church, Whippendell Road had christened Mary when she was a baby and she had attended his Sunday school in Queens Road. Mary was buried with her father, who had died 19 years previously and which, at the time, was in the unconsecrated part of the Cemetery. (It is now consecrated and is plot 203A).

On the 14th October the Daily Telegaph reported that “A rumour reached Clapham Junction late last night of a sensational arrest in connection with the tunnel murder, but in the absence of confirmation by the local police the name of the person taken into custody cannot be revealed. The individual who is stated to have been apprehended had been absent from home for several days before the tragedy.” The police refused to either confirm or deny the report.

As a postscript, in 1912 in Eastbourne, the bodies of a man, his wife, their child and two other children were found in a burning house. They had all been shot. The mother of the two children survived being shot twice in the neck. The man (Robert Hicks Murray) had shot the others and then killed himself. It turned out that Murray was Robert Money, Mary’s brother. Incredibly he had married both women, who were sisters, and neither knew of the marriage to the other! Maybe this was not the first murder Robert had been involved in.

Mary’s case still remains unsolved; it is thought to be the first recorded murder on a train in England. As her brother Robert was later proven to be a liar, one of the questions that remains is, did Robert Money tell all he knew about the death of his sister?

In 1912 police made public information that had been held back at the time of the investigation because they thought it would upset the family: “Mary gambled extensively. The stock at the dairy shop where she worked was short, and she feared being found out”.  The police believe this drove Mary to commit suicide in the tunnel on that fateful evening.

Research:  Susan Shrimpton

References: Watford Observer
                    Find My Past
                    Truecrimelibrary.com
                    www.merstham.co.uk/merstham/Merstham History
                    www.btpolice.uk/about ....... /murder of Mary Money 1905 aspx
                    the albion chronicles tripod.com/id27





Friday, 17 January 2020

Dr Francis Henry Wilson Iles

This piece has been written in response to a query elsewhere on the website from Mr Les Carpenter under the chapter on Brightwell's Farm, part of which reads:- 


"Many years ago I found a small dark Blue covered book about Watford, in the main Watford Library, it was I think a late 19th century print and which detailed how this most modern sewage system (as it was then) was built and how it operated. I have since tried to find this book but the librarians tell me it no longer exists, at least for public reading. If anyone can find it and re-produce the chapter I am certain many will find it very interesting. The same book describes a certain Dr. Isles who was very generous when treating the poor. The story goes that he treated, for free, a young waif but in the process suffered a tiny scratch. The wound would not heal and he consulted his friends in Harley Street who could do nothing. It was probably a form of blood poising or sepsis, which for in those days, there was no cure. When he died the whole Town is said to have turned out for the funeral procession down the High Street as he was so well known and loved by the townspeople. It is sad that he is not remembered by a street name in the Town".

After some research and input from a member of the group, it was discovered that the book in question is: History of Watford and Trade Directory by Henry Williams. A copy is in the possession of another member and the following, a glowing tribute to the great man following his death, is taken directly from it:

"Great as was the loss sustained by the death of Mr John Sedgwick, still greater was that which occurred on Wednesday 19th September 1883, in the death of Dr F. H. Wilson Iles; and perhaps no event at Watford ever cast so deep a gloom over the place as did this sad and untimely occurrence. The professional duties of medical practitioners are often fraught with danger and, apart from the pay they get for their services, a debit of gratitude is due to them for the promptitude they show in obeying the summons to a bed of sickness, and the risk they run in many cases where the disease is of a contagious nature. Particulars of the circumstances that led to the melancholy death of Dr Iles were inserted in the Watford Observer on the 22nd September 1883, together with an excellent biographical sketch, which I cannot do better than quote here:

'It will be remembered that on Tuesday, the 21st August last, Dr Iles performed an operation known in the medical profession as a 'tracheotomy', a method of effecting an artificial channel for respiration in cases of croup or diphtheria. Whilst so engaged he inflicted a slight wound on his left forefinger, close to the nail, which, we are informed, scarcely amounted to a scratch, so slight, indeed, as to pass almost unnoticed by Dr Iles himself at the time. On the following Friday, however, symptoms of inflammation, portending blood-poisoning, set in, and Dr Iles next morning went to London to consult his friend Mr Rouse, of St George's Hospital, knowing that that gentleman's large experience in such cases rendered his opinions of the highest importance. By his urgent advice he gave up work and immediately resorted to active treatment. For some days there was great pain and swelling, although at this period there was scarcely anything to indicate contamination of the system; indeed; matters progressed favourably until Wednesday in last week, by which time Dr Iles had completed all arrangements for a visit to the seaside, where he hoped to res-establish his health in a short time. But on that day his partner, Dr Stradling, perceived an alarming evidence of impending internal complications, which induced him to telegraph for Mr Rouse at once. The result of the consultation led to the projected visit being put off, and the wisdom of that decisions was demonstrated by the fact that from this time the symptoms increased in gravity day by day to such a degree that Mr Rouse, on the Monday following, took a serious view of the patient's chance of ultimate recovery. This opinion was destined to be verified only too soon, for between none and ten o'clock that same evening, Dr Iles awoke from what appeared to be a comfortable sleep, with paralysis of the palate and organs of speech, which rendered breathing a matter of extreme difficulty. He never spoke again. The whole of the left side became similarly affected and, after lingering for rather more than twenty-four hours, during which he was obviously conscious at intervals, he passed quietly away about midnight.'  (He had contracted diphtheria)

"No words that might might here be set down could evoke such feelings as must have welled up from a thousand hearts when the startling news was borne to them. It would ill become us to intrude on ground so sacred by any conventional phrases."

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