Now that warmer weather has made its mark, the combination of shorts, t-shirts, walking boots and a local Ordnance Survey map seems a good option for a day out. But what encouraged walkers to come to Watford in the early 1900s?

‘Walker Miles’ was the pen name of Londoner Edmund Seyfant Taylor. His pioneering guide books encouraged late Victorian and Edwardian ramblers, as well as the formation of rambling groups, several of which he founded. Vitally, he helped to preserve numerous public pathways and rights of way. His 37 pocket-sized books were published by his father’s - later his - printing and publishing firm, Robert Edmund Taylor & Son.

Watford Observer:

'Walker Miles' book, 1908

My 1/- (5p) ‘Walker Miles’ book of ‘Field-path and Rustic Rambles Through Hertfordshire Meadows, Watford’, published several years after Edmund Taylor’s death in 1908, was written by J A Southern following Taylor’s successful template. It provided clear route instructions, enticing illustrations, informative historical detail and a fold-out, one-inch to one-mile map. Also included was an underground map of London; an arrow indicating that Watford Junction lay beyond Willesden Junction.

The well-thumbed book urged Londoners to take their walking boots and experience the wonders of the Hertfordshire countryside. ‘Rich in cornfields, pastures, meadows, woods, groves and clear rivulets’ was cartographer William Camden’s quoted description from 1607. William Cobbett, author of ‘Rural Rides’ who journeyed here in 1822, is also quoted: ‘Talk of pleasure-grounds, indeed! What, that man ever invented under the name of pleasure-grounds, can equal these fields in Hertfordshire.’ What great encouragement for the early rambler!

Nine rambles are listed, from ten to 18 miles, eight beginning at Watford Junction Station and one at Bushey Station. Five finish at Watford Junction Station, four at Bushey Station. Places on the routes included Bricket Wood, Garston and Munden Park. What struck me was the dearth of buildings soon after the early rambler stepped out. There are descriptions of swathes of open countryside, woods, foot-paths, hedges, stiles, swing gates and cart-tracks, with inns mentioned along the way, but I’m sure Edmund Taylor and J A Southern would have opted for a picnic in the glorious countryside.

Watford Observer:

'Walker Miles' illustrations of Hamper Mill and Bushey Church, 1908

A ten-mile route takes the rambler through Munden Park, into a small wood leading to Bricket Wood Common. Continuing forward, ‘we gain a roadway in front of the Fox Inn [School Lane, Bricket Wood]. We turn right, passing on the left a house whose exterior is quaintly embellished with panels representing various sports and pastimes’ [The Picture House, School Lane].

Another route includes Oxhey Drive, leading to Oxhey Place and Oxhey Chapel. ‘Originally this was a delightful track through Oxhey Woods but we fear it is doomed to become a residential thoroughfare, though at present it is only a broad roadway, fenced on either hand and with a few large houses bordering it.’ The area was to become part of South Oxhey.

An alternative route on another ramble suggested leaving Bushey Station on the Watford side. ‘A rough pathway at once leads upon the left in front of a small public house [the Duke of Edinburgh] and we follow it past some cottages and beneath the railway viaduct [Bushey Arches]. The path continues along the bank of the river Colne and when it terminates upon a lane [Wiggenhall Road] we turn to the left. The lane soon turns to the right and then forks. We take the rightward arm [Riverside Road], which leads past a collection of cottages known as The Rookery, and a large steam laundry, and then ends. coming out into a lane [Hampermill Lane] in front of Oxhey Hall.’ On a further page, the book describes ‘Hamper Mills’ as ‘a most picturesque spot on the river Colne.’

Watford Observer:

Bushey Station, the Duke of Edinburgh public house on far right, c1908

Another route was via Callowland, Russell Lane and The Hare: ‘Passing through a swing-gate, the path enters a field and forks, when we take the leftward branch through a second swing-gate and bear gently rightwards across the field to a field-gate and stile in front... we come out into Sheepcot Lane. We turn to the right and after passing on the left the carriage-gateway to Woodside House [demolished in 1959], the lane bears a shade to the right and makes a slight dip’.

Patchett’s Green features on a walk from Bushey. At a small wood, the walker is directed to a ‘finger post’ and a path. ‘We keep forward along a farm lane which, passing some farm buildings, ends in front of Patchett’s Green, a charming little hamlet’.

Watford Observer:

Path to Patchett's Green, 1909

Edmund Taylor and J A Southern would be shocked to see the massive loss of local countryside to development but such is ‘progress’; the result of significant increases in population and the need for housing.

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.