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A guided tour of Rickmansworth's historic buildings
After exploring the hidden history of Watford town centre, Nostalgia editor Michael Pickard joined Alan Jamieson, a trustee of Three Rivers Museum, for a walk to discover the secrets of Rickmansworth’s past.
On a grey and cloudy day, shoppers were unperturbed by the gloomy weather as I met Alan Jamieson inside Three Rivers Museum.
Located just off the High Street, opposite Watersmeet Theatre, this is the start of the Rickmansworth History Trail that snakes its way around the town, along roads and gravel paths, as it reveals clues to its proud heritage.
Rickmansworth was once a manor owned by the Abbey of St Albans and in 1542, during the reign of King Henry VIII, it was granted a royal licence to host a Saturday market.
Over the decades and centuries that followed, the town rapidly expanded, not least with the establishment of breweries and the arrival of the Metropolitan Line from London in 1887.
It was in 1740, however, that Basing House was built.
The building that is now home to Three Rivers Museum is most commonly known as the home of William Penn – Rickmansworth’s most famous resident.
Penn, founder of the state of Pennsylvania in the United States, lived on the site from 1672 to 1677. But the building he made his home was later demolished and Basing House as it is now was built using timbers and doors from the original house.
A plaque honouring Penn can be seen on the front wall, one of many references to him around Rickmansworth.
Walking along the High Street, Alan pointed out the architecture displayed by many of the shops.
“The frontages are new but most of the buildings themselves are all 1930s,” he said.
We passed a sign indicating the location of The Old Town Hall, which became a picture house, and further along the road is The Pennsylvanian pub, named after Rickmansworth’s “most famous citizen”.
His portrait hangs from a sign high above the main entrance.
Further along the road, Alan pointed out a group of three shops – a hair salon, stationery shop and shoe repair shop – which he explains are housed in a building with a mock-Tudor frontage, probably put up about 1930. The chimneys, however, place the building’s roots in the 17th Century.
The M & Co clothes shop used to be the site of The Fotherley Almshouses, which were built for five poor widows to live, by Sir John Fotherley, “Lord of the Manor of Rickmansworth” in 1682. It was also at one point a branch of Woolworth’s.
Perhaps more interesting, however, is the history behind what is now Ricky Kebab and Fish House.
Only an engraved foundation stone on the front of the building reveals that it was once home to Rickmansworth Fire Station, which was built by Dr Roderick Henderson, who lived at Basing House from 1865 to 1929.
Dr Henderson was also captain of the fire brigade and its headquarters were opened in 1891, a moment preserved by the stone that also lists the original crew members.
Walking back along the High Street and turning into Bury Lane, we headed towards Bury House, once home to the Lords of the Manor and now converted into seven apartments, until we came to a small waterway.
Known as “the town ditch”, which runs into the river Colne, it used to overflow into the road until it was covered with a bridge in the 1960s.
Further along Bury Lane are the Beresford Almshouses, built for the poor in 1894 and are still lived in today, while a large sign that reads Beeson’s Yard marks the entrance to a large 19th Century builder’s yard.
Then, as the road winds to the left, the entrance to Bury House is marked by two brick pillars leading to a gravel driveway.
The house, described as “Rickmansworth’s most distinguished house”, was built in 1559, and rebuilt 100 years later.
Lord Ebury then bought it in 1869, before Hertfordshire County Council purchased it in 1936. It was also used as a civil defence centre during World War Two.
Overlooking Ebury House, and reached by a narrow path, is St Mary’s Church. The church as it stands now was opened in 1890 and features the original tower that dates to 1630. Inside there are numerous memorials to some of the most well known figures in Rickmansworth’s history, including Sir Thomas Fotherley, who was the inspiration for the church and who died in 1649, and the 2nd Earl of Monmouth who owned Moor Park until 1652.
Walking through the church grounds and out onto Church Street, Alan and I are confronted with The Feathers – the first ever pub in Rickmansworth, which was purchased by the brewer Stephen Salter in 1780. Standing next to it is one of the town’s best examples of Tudor architecture.
Turning into Talbot Road, a house on the corner bears a sign with the words “Police Station”, which is what it was from 1864 to 1897. At the end of road was Salter’s Brewery.
Walking back towards the High Street and heading past Watersmeet, we arrived at the Baptist Church, built in 1843. This stands next to Gable House, built four years later, which was home to the National School set up for the town’s poor children.
Further along the road is the Coach and Horses pub, bought by the Salter family in 1741, and this leads to the final stop on the history trail, St Joan of Arc School.
The main house of the Catholic school was once known as The Elms, built about 1725, and was once the summer residence of the author George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), who wrote Daniel Deronda in 1876. The school opened in 1922.
Alan said: “It’s a mish mash of architectural variations but hidden away are all these gems. Basing House is an 18th Century house, Bury House is Tudor and we have a medieval church.”
With thanks to Alan Jamieson. For more information about Rickmansworth History Trails, telephone Three Rivers Museum on 01923 772325 or 775882.