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 Blog Archive)

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