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40 things you may not know about Watford...
Updated 2:35pm Friday 31st January 2014 in News
...unless you own Watford in the 20th Century Volume 1, in which case you’ll know these and thousands more facts about the history of Watford and the rest of south west Hertfordshire.
Watford Market 1906: Watford Library
2. Breaking... ads: Not a headline was seen on the Watford Observer’s front page until 1957 as it contained advertisements only
3. Brave decision: Watford Council purchased the 65 acres of Cassiobury Park in 1909 after ignoring a public ballot that opposed the move by 2,965 votes to 679.
Canal: David Spain, Langley Archives
4. Disgraceful scenes: Rioting took place in Watford in 1902 when Edward VII’s coronation was postponed after he underwent an operation for appendicitis, life-threatening in those days. Shops were looted and furniture set on fire. It all resulted in 48 men and 8 women being convicted.
Riot King Street, 1902: Watford Library
5. Deadly duo: Bertie Banks and Harry Barton netted 100 goals between them in season 1902/03 as Watford FC won the Southern League Division 2 title. Both were discovered to be drunk during matches, a not uncommon phenomenon in those days.
6. Most Wicked: In 1909 Watford was rated “the most wicked part of the county, famous for its crime”.
7. Hold-up: In 1903 two men were charged with highway robbery when they held up an ice cream vendor in Mill End shouting “Stand and deliver”.
8. First showings: Aladdin was the first pantomime and Raffles the first play to take place at The Palace theatre after it opened in 1908.
The Palace theatre 1909: Watford Library
9. Spoilt for choice: In 1907 Kings Langley had a pub for every 83 inhabitants, whereas rural Hertfordshire averaged one to every 143 residents. Not surprisingly there was concern for the spiritual welfare of the area.
10. Doctor guilty: Doctor A Lightfoot was sentenced to five year’ penal servitude for performing an abortion in 1911. Public outcry resulted in a 36,867-signature petition that led to Dr Lightfoot’s sentence being cut to three years. When he was released from Maidstone Convict Prison in 1913 he was met by a crowd at Watford Junction singing “For he’s a jolly good fellow”.
11. Rough justice: In 1910 a boy was brought before magistrates for playing football in the street, while a Sarratt waggoner was fined 15 shillings for being asleep at the reins in Hempstead Road.
12. New school: The new Watford Grammar School in Rickmansworth Road cost £27,000 and was opened in 1912. Almost immediately the need to extend Watford Girls Grammar School was voiced.
13. Safe place: In 1912 Bushey was deemed the safest place in the county, if not the country, pipping even Watford’s low death rate of 8.9 per cent per 1,000, which compared very favourably with a death rate of 13.4 per cent for England and Wales. It was argued this was probably a result of “the enormous sums spent on sewage”.
14. Burning issue: In 1913 suffragettes were thought to be responsible for torching the Croxley LNWR station on the same night Saunderton Station near Wycombe was razed and the message “Burning to get the vote” left at the scene.
Roughwood House Fire - Great War: Ginnie Jenkins
15. Magic Magpies: Watford FC won the Southern League’s First Division in 1914-15 wearing black and white striped shirts and earning the nickname, Magpies.
Watford FC 1914: Michael Conquest
16. Won’t fight: During the First World War there were 1,200 claims by conscientious objectors put before tribunals, of which 140 were dismissed, 500 granted condition exemption and the remainder given temporary exemption.
Soliders in Beechen Grove, 1910: Watford Library
17. Crash landing: Hertfordshire was the first county to bring down a Zeppelin on English soil. It came down in Cuffley in 1916 but the burning airship could be seen from Watford.
18. Ultimate price: It was claimed 710 men from Watford laid down their lives for King and Country during the First World War, 82 from Rickmansworth, 72 from Abbots Langley, 44 from Chorleywood, 35 from Croxley Green, 31 from Mill End and Heronsgate, 31 from Kings Langley, 20 from Aldenham and 16 from Leavesden.
19. Shot down: Warneford Place, off King Edward Road, Oxhey, was named after Rex Warneford VC. In 1915 he brought down the first German Zeppelin by aerial combat. Watford “claimed” him - his step mother lived in Oxhey Avenue and his aunt in Kingsfield Road.
20. Our hero: The most celebrated local VC of the First World War was Private Christopher Cox, of Kings Langley. In March 1917 he won the medal for single-handedly rescuing four men from a “fire-swept” battlefield.
Christopher Cox: Kings Langley Historical Society
21. JFK was there: Reputedly the richest man in the world, John Pierpont Morgan Jnr bought Wall Hall in Aldenham in 1913 mainly to indulge his love of game shooting. He returned to the USA in 1939, leasing the estate to US Ambassador Joe Kennedy and his family, including the future President John F. Kennedy, who lived there until 1942 when Morgan died.
22. Bookworms: There was a dramatic increase in reading with the advent of libraries – 1,000 being issued in one day in 1921, increasing to 1,214 in 1924 and 1,557 in 1927.
Library 1930s: Watford Museum
23. Water sports: In 1928 a syndicate, the Aquadrome Company, bought the former gravel pits at Batchworth and the newly-dug Bury Lake, building boat houses, moorings, a swimming and diving enclosure and a “commodious restaurant and clubhouse”.
24. Snowbound: In 1927 the snow was eight-foot deep in Chorleywood. Cars were abandoned and it took two days to make a path to the main road 80 yards away.
25. Earth moves: Rickmansworth, Radlett and Bushey felt the tremors of an earthquake one August evening in 1926.
26. Celebration time: Watford became a borough on Wednesday, October 18, 1922. Children were given the day off school and granted free entrance to matinee performances at “the pictures”.
1920s Charter Day, Haydon Road: Watford Museum
27. End of era: Historic Cassiobury House was demolished in 1927 – marking the end of an era that had dominated and dictated the life of Watford and Watfordians.
Cassiobury House: Mono
28. Top cop: West Herts superintendent William Wood retired and died during the 1920s. In 1920 his detective prowess was lauded, including his work in solving the “poison by post” case that led to Mary Ansell being hanged at gallows in St Albans for poisoning her sister Caroline.
29. First game: Watford FC’s new ground in Vicarage Road hosted its first match in August 1922 with a goalless draw with Millwall. Four games into the season, Watford christened the stadium with their first goal, scored by Fred Pagnam.
30. Longer line: Electrification and the Met Line arrived at the 38-year-old Rickmansworth Station in 1925, bringing Baker Street within 24 minutes’ travelling time. That year the new Met Station was opened in Watford.
31. Site bought: In 1926 the Royal Masonic School for Girls paid £60,000 for a site in Rickmansworth Park: 280 acres with a stately manor owned by Viscountess Barrington.
32. Much-needed: Watford Peace Memorial Hospital was opened by Princess Mary in 1925. The need for more modern facilities being demonstrated six years earlier during the great influenza epidemic, which claimed 140 lives in the town.
Peace Memorial Hospital interior: Watford Library
33. Don’t panic: The Munich Crisis in 1938 caused panic. The Mayor of Watford entreated the local community to stay calm and stressed war was not inevitable but then arranged for 50,000 gas masks to be assembled in ten hours.
Gas masks: Watford Library
34. Pen progress: The fountain pen, initially opposed by schoolmasters who believed it “could spoil handwriting”, was embraced in 1932.
35. Violent scenes: Bitterness exploded into violence in the centre of Watford in 1930 when ex-miners from designated “distressed areas” attended a government instructional centre. This created resentment among local unemployed people who were not receiving such support. Local youths attacked the ex-miners with truncheons, lead pipes, razors and knuckle dusters, forcing them to take refuge in The Palace theatre.
36. Building boom: In 1934 plans were advanced for 656 £500 to £1,000 houses on 62 acres of the Durrants Estate and Parrott’s in Croxley Green.
37. Sunday cinema: After rejecting the concept five times, Watford Council eventually agreed in 1938 to poll the population on whether cinemas should open on Sundays. The public voted 9,600 to 6,900 in favour.
38. Golf on the rates: Watford Council bought West Herts Golf Club in 1932, supported by a loan of £24,500 from the Ministry of Health.
39. Safer roads: Problems caused by increasing volumes of traffic partially eased with the introduction of Belisha beacons, one-way streets, roundabouts, compulsory driving tests and 30mph limits in 1934 and Catseyes, traffic police and compulsory third party insurance in 1935.
40. Well, well, well: In 1931 workmen digging a four-foot deep channel through Market street into the High Street, Watford, discovered a 75ft deep well that had lain forgotten for 70 years.
There are still copies of Watford in the 20th Century Volume 1 available to order. Click here for details. Alternatively, call in to Observer House in Caxton Way on the Watford Business Park and we'd be delighted to sell you a copy. The Watford in the 20th Centuryseries is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of south west Hertfordshire. It is researched and written by Oliver Phillips, a columnist on this site
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