There were so many shops in Oxhey Village when I was growing up that taking the bus into Watford for provisions was a personal choice, not a necessity. Villiers Road, Capel Road and Pinner Road were always busy, especially on Saturday mornings. Queues at Brown’s and Turner’s, two greengrocers on Capel Road, and at the bakers, Lovedays, on the Villiers Road/Capel Road corner, provided moments for friendly chats with others waiting for fruit, vegetables or hot crusty loaves. The ambience was unhurried, and patience and politeness reigned. On Sundays when the church pews were full, the shops were closed; only the newsagent opened bright and early to sort newspapers for the delivery boys.

Watford Observer:

Villiers Road from the Villiers Arms, late 1970s

Harry Smith, later Barden’s, the newsagent and confectioner at 107 Villiers Road was a mecca for little ones at Easter, Fireworks Night and Christmas. I can still recall the discovery there of a boxed white sugar Easter egg with a peephole through which a 3-D scene of yellow chicks was visible. I was so fascinated that my parents succumbed. Days of wonderment later, I took a bite but it tasted like sweetened cardboard! Christmas novelties and decorations provided more interest, as did occasional purchases of Beano or Bunty magazines and those irresistible penny sweets and gobstoppers with caraway seeds in the centre.

The lead-up to November 5 at 107 meant saving up pocket money before peering into a large glass case filled with sparklers, fire crackers, rockets and Catherine wheels. On entering the shop, you immediately smelt the fireworks. The decision-making was a serious matter, as was the careful carrying home of the chosen selection in a brown paper bag.

A few doors away at 99 was J. Matthews, the boot maker. I recall the strong smell of leather in the shop. It was an old-fashioned establishment, with traditional repair and finishing machines, and piles of repaired shoes in brown paper bags awaiting collection. Mr. Matthews and his successor, H. Pratt, dealt with steady streams of customers, as heels and soles endured relentless mileage in those days and were expected to last.

Watford Observer:

S.J. Hocker, Villiers Road, 1984

Next door at 97 was S.J. Hocker’s grocery shop. I used to peer through the double-fronted windows as my mother rarely went in. She preferred Palmer’s on the corner of Villiers Road and Capel Road and would not be seen in Hocker’s carrying bags with goods from a competing grocery store; something I never understood.

Watford Observer:

Local children by Frederick William Hocker, father of Sidney John Hocker, greengrocer, early 20th century

Sidney John Hocker was born locally in 1904. His London-born father, Frederick William, who died in 1935, was a photographic engraver and re-toucher. His interest in local photography is evident from a mounted collection of early photographs given to me many years ago, bearing his hand-written inscription ‘Bucks Avenue, formerly Beggars Lane and Pinner Road’. In one photograph, a dozen young children, girls wearing bonnets and boys wearing caps, pose on an unmade, rubble-strewn roadway.

Watford Observer:

Palmer's with sale notice, c1980s

In Oxhey in the 1950s, E.S. Palmer at 27 Villiers Road, on the Capel Road corner, had the largest, shiniest counter-top meat slicer, which immediately caught a child’s eye. Bacon and ham were cooked on site, cut to order and weighed for each customer. Cheese and butter were cut with a thin wire and individually wrapped in waxed paper while you waited.

Watford Observer:

Loveday's on left, late 1970s

Opposite Palmer’s was - and still is - C. Loveday & Son at 25 Villiers Road. I often accompanied my grandmother on Saturday mornings when she bought bread: a white split tin, a cottage loaf or a bloomer. The crusts were crunchy and the bread divine, and if you timed your purchase as the loaves came out of the oven, they would still be warm when you arrived home. The display window on the left of the entrance was always full of enticing cakes and pastries and, if I was lucky, my grandmother bought one or two to share. I can visualise them now. Danish pastries shaped like fans with white icing, cream horns, square sponge cakes topped with icing and long buns filled with raspberry jam and artificial cream and topped with sugar; my favourite. The business has remained in the same family for over 150 years and long may it continue to thrive.

Turning left out of Loveday’s and continuing down Villiers Road, there was one more shop: Molly at 1a: a popular ladies’ hairdresser run by Mrs. M. Robinson and K. Watson.

Oxhey was - and still is - a village with a strong sense of community. Over the decades, many of the old shops were sold and converted; some into private homes whilst others reopened, offering a range of services. Oxhey has few food shops now and with online shopping there’s little need to drive into Watford. How life has changed. My father and his contemporaries would recall the less convenient ‘Good Old Days’ with quiet nostalgia.

To be continued...

Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’, available at and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.