West Watford History Group

History of West Watford and environs

Holy Wells

"Is there any information about the name Holywell for this area of Watford, has there ever been a holy well as such in this area of Watford. The only information I have been able to find is that the name refers to a spring which existed around the back of Cardiff Road and it joins up with the River Colne in that area. I still wonder about why it was ever called Holywell can anyone help?" 


This question was posed by Mr Paul Vidler who has lived in the area since 1959.


To take the query regarding 'Holy Well' first we can offer the following:


According to Wikipedia:  "The term haeligewielle is in origin an Anglo-Saxon toponym attached to specific springs in the landscape". 


The name Holywell is common throughout England and Wales and the derivation comes from Anglo Saxon, but not all such place names had a well.  


The original "Holywell Estate" is shown on the map below. It was for many years the home of C. Snewing Esq. Described as 'a somewhat old-fashioned but exceedingly comfortable Residence' it went up for sale in June 1887 and included 'lawns and pleasure grounds ornamented with fine timber trees, conifers and shrubs, a very productive kitchen garden and orchard, conservatories, vineries, detached stable etc. Extensive yards and farm premises and ranges of stabling and boxes. There is a building erected for the stabling of the celebrated Race Horse "Caractacus" with rooms etc which could be converted into cottages and several other useful detached buildings".



It became Holywell Farm owned by Watford Urban District Council and the surrounding land, originally granted by the Earl of Essex, continued as a sewage farm until what we now know as Holywell Estate was built at the beginning of the 1950s. 


As for a spring in the area, there are none that we have been able to find marked on any maps. There is 'Brightwell Spring' next to Brightwell Farm, but this appears to be a copse of trees. If there is a spring flowing out from there, it is not specifically marked as such.  


However, Mr Vidler corresponded with the following:


"I found out about the spring behind Cardiff Road when I asked the same question of a Watford History group on Facebook. I did explore that area when I was a lad of about 7 and lived in Hagden Lane. I followed Willow Lane down to the bottom of the hill where it joins up with the footpath that comes through from Cardiff Road. Most of this area was derelict land and allotments when I did this around 1956. I remember jumping over a little stream that ran past the back of the old Watford coal powered power station which was there at that time and it ran down into the Colne. I did not see exactly where it rose but that would have been behind Cardiff Road. At that time there were no car breakers or other industrial sites there just derelict open land scattered with bricks and ruined walls. There were two padlocked metal gates at the end of Cardiff Road, but just to the right of them was a narrow gap sufficient for people to squeeze through. The path continued underneath the old railway arch (West Watford line) to the back of a farm and abattoir that used to be there, which is now housing.* The farm house was a ruin but the abattoir was quite busy well into the 60's and early 70's accessed by an undedicated access road from Vicarage Road that is still there but gated off most of the time. It also provides access to the electrical sub station which is right by the disused railway line and Watford Stadium Halt". 

(* Roughly the area between Stripling Way and Jellicoe Road)

(The abbatoir and substation gave way to more housing - Ed) 


Taking a lead from Paul's description above, we have added a couple of photos that appear to fit his exploration. One is of the gates at the end of Cardiff Road, the photo taken in April 2015, and the other is of a bridge that crosses a stream (or possibly the Colne itself) near to where the old power station would have been, taken in October 2013.




As for other Springs in the town, during 2010 the main part of the original Benskins Brewery site was once again redeveloped after the demise of the Watford Springs swimming pool. During the construction of the Wellspring Centre for Watford Community Church, a 15-metre deep industrial well was discovered, likely to have been the brewery's primary source of water drawn from the River Colne. 


A further well is marked by a plaque in St Mary's Square, next to St Mary's Parish Church.


The Sun Clock Tower, as it became known, was a pumping station for the Sun Engraving Company in Whippendell Road and was built over an artesian well.  


As recently as August 2016, during the redevelopment of Charter Place in the town centre, what is thought to be a well has been discovered, possibly dating from the 1700s. 



Thanks to Mr Paul Vidler for his observations and information and for initially contacting the group.

Lynda Bullock  


If anyone can supply further information on this subject, we would be pleased to hear from you.