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West Watford History Group

History of West Watford and environs

workhouse boys commemorated

When the former Union Workhouse Chapel, St Barnabas's, became structurally unsound and demolished in 1962, some parts of the chapel and some of the objects were preserved (see more detailed information in drop-down menu under 'Places of Worship'). One of the objects was a brass plaque in memory of two Workhouse boys who were probably the only inmates to have an official memorial of any kind and it recalls that James Gurney and Daniel Gordon, both 16, 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 Isandulare in Zululand, January 22, 1879". This plaque, after the demolition of the chapel, was apparently incorporated into a new chapel within the newly built Watford General Hospital (Shrodells).

After a question posed on the Nostalgia page of the Watford Observer newspaper asking if anyone knew of the whereabouts of the plaque and a search by members of the West Watford History Group (and others), it was assumed the plaque had been lost or, perhaps even disposed of.

In January 2013, a Mr Paul King from Worcester wrote to the Watford Observer and enclosed a photograph (see below) regarding the Workhouse Boys.  It reads:

"I am the present keeper of the AZW medal awarded to Daniel Gordon, who was one of five boys sadly killed at Isandhlwana in the  Anglo Zulu war of 1879. This was the battle on January 22 that resulted in the total annihilation of the British and Colonial forces at Isandhlwana and which immediately preceded the more well-known battle at Rorke's Drift.

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." 


Watford Observer: The mountain battlefield at Isandhlwana and Daniel Gordon's Zulu War medal.

The mountain battlefield at Isandhlwana and Daniel Gordon's Zulu war medal, courtesy of Mr Paul King.


 Mr Tim Needham, who raised the original question of the Workhouse Boys and who spent much time researching records, along with members of the group, trying to locate the whereabouts of the brass plaque, recently contacted us with an update. 

It had been hoped that a 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 plaque and would only fund a replacement memorial 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. 

Mr Needham subsequently set out to try and procure donations and commission a replacement plaque. It had also been hoped that such a memorial could be located in the West Watford area, close to where the original was in St Barnabas's Chapel, but failing that, another option was the 24th Regiment's Museum in Brecon, South Wales, where there are already a couple of Zulu War plaques, amongst others.

We are delighted to say that a Memorial Plaque has now been commissioned and is in place at the 24th Regiment's Museum in Brecon and, together with the names of Daniel Gordon and James Gurney, are also mentioned three other 24th Regiment boys who died alongside them. 


 The Memorial now in place in the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh in Brecon

Please see more photos in the Gallery, taken at the Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh in Brecon 


We are indebted to Mr Tim Needham and Mr Paul King for helping us to put together this story of the Workhouse Boys and for the photographs.  Also the Watford Observer newspaper.