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 sport was 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 Neuchâtel 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)
In January 1926 Mr Andrew-Artha was given permission
to provide and hire out boats on the new Corporation’s water at Wiggenhall. This wasinitially 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.
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."
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
“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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
"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 Warwebsite 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 2ndWarwickshire)Regiment of
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 theBoerrepublic ofTransvaal. 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
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
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
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 ofUlundi, 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 begantorturingcaptive Zulu
warriors in an effort to learn the location and tactics of their army.