World War One, Aspects of West Watford, 70
years of the NHS and Bricks!
In 2014 the West Watford History Group staged an exhibition commemorating the beginning of World War One. It was held in the Scout Hut in Durban Road (the former Labour Church) and was incredibly well received (see photos in the gallery).
Last year, 2017, the group put on another exhibition entitled “Aspects of West Watford” which focused on the Workhouse, poverty and slums. It was held in the Red Lion Public House, part of the former Colney Butts estate and again was very well attended - about 150 people (photos in gallery), so much so that it was restaged in a slightly scaled down version at a Watford Central U3A meeting and is scheduled to be seen again at Watford Museum in early 2019.
There was a tremendous amount of positive feedback for both events, the Workhouse exhibition initiating our ‘Save the Bricks’ campaign. (More of that later).
This year, July 15th 2018, the group held an event celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the NHS. Although there was a focus on Watford General Hospital and the development of the hospital from workhouse to infirmary to Public Assistance Institution and General Hospital, along with various specialties, considerable space was given to the NHS as a whole from its inception to the present time. The exhibition was illustrated with many photographs and posters alongside the research of members and also included such things as a skeleton, nurses’ uniforms and an early x-ray tube.
It was perhaps unfortunate that very hot weather, footie on the telly and Wimbledon kept a few otherwise would-be attendees away, but we still had approximately 60 people through the door and a few keen souls braved the heat to participate in one of the walks across to the hospital to see the etched bricks.
The building fronting Vicarage Road next to the football ground, formerly known as Shrodells, was initially the Watford Union Workhouse. One of the courtyards at the rear was the exercise yard for the male inmates and on two of the walls are a number of bricks etched with a name and a date (approximately 50 in all). They were inscribed by probably one (perhaps more) particular inmate during the years from 1845 to 1858 and show the names of those who died in the workhouse and a date. They are likely the only memorial these men had and as such, are unique not only to workhouse history, but to social history as a whole. Although graffiti has been found in some former workhouses, usually in the day wards/rooms used by casuals, there does not appear to be any other place with etched bricks such as those at Watford.
Work has been done by one member in particular to match up the names on the bricks with the actual people who resided in the House. Using workhouse death records for the Watford area and census records, all the bricks have been researched.
Photographed by group members in about 2013, they are, five years later, showing signs of deterioration and erosion. It was strongly felt that there was duty to preserve these memorials and therefore following the group’s exhibition last year, a campaign was initiated to “Save the Bricks”. Members met with the Herts Heritage Hub at the University of Hertfordshire, where a presentation was given showcasing the bricks and advice received as to the way forward. A first step would be contacting a specialist architectural conservator, but any professional advice would come at a cost and it has to be remembered that the building is part of the NHS and, as such, on private land. Any future steps towards the conservation of the bricks will be done, hopefully, with the consent of the hospital.
Before we can proceed we need to raise funds. Our last two exhibitions produced a few donations to the campaign, but we will need more. If anyone is interested in helping financially, with however small a donation, please contact the group. (The email address in on the Home Page).
It is hoped to arrange one or two more short excursions to see the bricks in the near future, when a small fee would be requested. Please check back regularly for dates and times if you are interested.
Date for the diary: West Watford History Group will be commemorating the final Armistice Day of the four-year 1914-1918 World War One centenary at their POEMS, POPPIES & PEACE event.
This will take place at the Community Centre on Sunday, 11th November 2018 between 2.00 pm and 6.00 pm.
All our members and friends in West Watford will be welcome to join us in remembering families across the world who suffered as a consequence of what was called The Great War. Many young men died from almost every nation and continent on earth and the consequences of their loss impacted on their families and local communities, such as ours in West Watford.
Our displays will include facts and figures about how the war affected our community and others; there will be artwork and readings of famous poems and some not so famous.
Refreshments - hot drinks and squash, biscuits and snacks - will be available throughout this twilight event and there will be 100 lights to represent each year of the 100 that have passed since the end of the conflict was announced on 11th November 1918.