Watford in old picture postcards

Watford in old picture postcards

:   Dennis F. Edwards
:   Hertfordshire
:   United Kingdom
:   978-90-288-1400-4
:   80
:   EUR 16.95 Incl BTW *

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Fragmenten uit het boek 'Watford in old picture postcards'

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As we come to the end ofthe 20th century, many ofthe famous towns in Britain are being changed not only out of visible recognition, but in their cultural and social make-up as well.

Watford is one of the most prominent examples of how a place has changed in the last forty years due to dynamic and overprogressive local government. The destruction of so much of old Watford some years ago made one elderly resident exclaim: 'r wonder what building is being demolished today.'

Watford has not had a good record ofkeeping its past or adapting its heritage to modern needs. The destruction of the past began with the demolition of Cassiobury House in 1927. During the period after the Second World War there was an inevitable pause before the needs of very heavy road traffk and flourishing industries, as well as a very popular shopping centre, attracting crowds from all over North London and Hertfordshire, brought about some profound changes. Watford began as a single long street ofbuildings with insanitary alleyways, rising from the River Colne, to the edge of Cassiobury Park. The Market dates from a Charter granted by King Edward III in 1305. For centuries Watford was dominated by Cassiobury (or Cashiobury as it was once called). Cassiobury

was granted by King Henry VIII in 1546 to Sir Richard Morrison, who set about building a house that had 56 rooms and a long gallery. It possibly resem bled nearby Chenies Manor. Through marriage, the Morrisons were linked to the Capel family and in the 17th century, Arthur Capel was made the 1 st Earl of Essex.

The house was eventually rebuilt, and on 16th April 1680, the diarist Iohn Evelyn came to the house and tells us:

"The house is new, a plaine (sic) fabric built by my friend Mr. Hugh May. There are divers fair and good rooms and excellent carvings by Grinling Gibbons.'

The house was given a large-scale remodelling in the early 19th century by Iames Wyatt - the style being the romantic Gothic then so fashionable.

A lady visitor, Frances Calvert, in 1816 wrote: 'On Wednesday last we went to Cashiobury, the seat of the Earl of Essex, which is a very pretty house and more full of comforts, curiosities and pretty things than any other house I ever saw.'

The Victorian period was a golden era for Cassiobury, with famous people staying there every weekend. But the ever-mounting costs, and the tide of houses made the estate uneconomic by 1913. Parts of the estate were already being sold for building plots. and the Watford Borough

Council purchased part of the lands for a public park in 1912.

The contents of the great house were sold at a series of auctions from 1 922. The vast building did not appeal to the changed tastes ofthe 1920's and was demolished in 1927, many of the materials going to form new buildings in the town.

OfWatford itself, the arrival ofthe London and Birmingham Railway in 1 837 was soon to have an effect on the local economy. New people arrived to work in the industries that were developing, especially printing. Indeed, by 1939, Watford could justly be called the printing capital of Europe.

The old shops with their small windows and badly-lit interiors gave way to bright new stores, and Watford by 1925 (when the Metropolitan Railway arrived at the edge ofthe town) became the great shopping centre, not only for Hertfordshire, but also North London.

During the First World War, the Government established large munition factories to the north and south of the town. These areas were later developed into trading estates.

Watford By-pass was constructed between 1924 and 1926, but traffic was to become an ever growing problem. During the years between 1919 and 1939, Watford flourished - new industries, new suburbs. In fact it became two towns - one still provincial - the largest town in Hertfordshire; the other Watford - a suburb for London

commuters. Indeed, as Middlesex was built over, the suburbs of Harrow were only 6 miles to the south.

By the early 1960's road traffic had strangled the town and imaginative plans were drawn up and eventually carried out to reduce the problem.

In the 1970's the huge concrete bulk of Charter Place Shopping Centre dominated High Street, to be followed in more recent times by the much better designed (and shopper-friendly) Harlequin Centre. This was officially opened in Iune 1992. But the effect has been to dose most of the old High Street shops. However, there are plans for attractive gardens, cafés and bars - especially towards the famous ponds.

Of course, there are relics of the past, if one knows where to find them. And as this century doses, there is an evergrowing interest in the history we have lost. The 20th century has been a hundred years of profound contrast nowhere better illustrated than in the town of Watford.

Dennis F. Edwards Mumbles, Swansea February 1999

1 The famous gatehouse to Cassiobury Park seen from Rickmansworth Raad, a quiet country road

in the peaceful days of 1903.

2 Looking out of the Park towards Watford. The gateway was admired by a visitor in 1819: 'An octagonal, tasteful building - ivy clad and honeysuckle and

roses cover its top and sides; its back embowered amongst lofty trees.'

3 More than fifty years have passed since the previous view of the gateway. The structure was dernol-

ished in 1971 for the Riekmansworth Raad widening scheme.

4 The west front of Cassiobury 1906, showing the Gothic style architecture in which Iames Wyatt covered the 17th century house.

The famous painter]. M. Turner produced scenes of the house during 1 804 and 1805.

5 Cassiobury as it was in the days when Adèle, Countess ofEssex, entertained Edwardian society here - including the King.

6 Cassiobury Park was also used for public events at certain times. This event took place in July 1855, when the Watford Horticultural and Floricultural Show took place.

The 'Illustrated London News' reported: ' ... although Londoners lately witnessed ... grand floricultural displays at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, the park ofwhich is, however, a much less delightful place for a flower show than the beautiful domain of Cassiobury.'

The show was open from 2 till5 0' clock, and many local shops dosed so that Watford people could attend.

7 The Swiss Cottage by

the River Gade, Riekmansworth Raad. It was one of a number of ornate buildings designed by]effrey

Wyatville far the Earl of Essex in the early years of the 19th century. This cottage had stained glass windows depicting the cus-

toms and costumes of Switzerland. It is now the only surviving lodge.


8 The old water mill on the Gade (demolished

] 966). Originally a com mill, it later served to

pump water from the river to the mansion.

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