Much has been written about the imposing structure known as Monmouth House near the Pond in Watford.

Built in the 17th century by the Earl of Monmouth, Robert Carey, as a dower house, it was split into two separate residences in 1771. Nearly 50 years later the southern half, known as The Platts, underwent alterations to the front elevation and in 1927 it was rebuilt to replicate The Platts with bricks from the demolished Cassiobury House. But were you aware of the property's murder mystery and Hitchcock connections?

Anthony Berkeley Cox pioneered psychological suspense fiction and brought early 20th century crime writing to new heights. His family were living in Monmouth House and The Platts on Watford High Street when he was born in the town in 1893. Educated at boarding schools in Surrey and Dorset, he earned a degree in classics at University College, Oxford. After being invalided out of the Northamptonshire Regiment 7th (S) Battalion during World War One, he worked as a journalist, writing witty sketches and book reviews for Punch and later for The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Humourist.

His first crime novel, The Laytoncourt Mystery, featuring amateur sleuth Roger Sheringham, was published anonymously in 1925. Sheringham and his deductive or inductive detection techniques were to feature in a further ten of Cox's detective stories written as Anthony Berkeley. He penned his psychological suspense novels as Francis Iles (the name of a maternal smuggling ancestor) and a novel, Cicely Disappears, as A. Monmouth Platts.

Watford Observer:

Monmouth House and The Platts c1900

In Malice Aforethought, his best-known title, he took an innovative step and revealed the murderer in the opening sentence before leading the reader through the motive, psychology and crime. The book was exhibited at the 1951 Festival of Britain as one of the 20th century's outstanding literary works. He wrote numerous novels, short crime stories, reviews, BBC radio plays and two comic-opera librettos, as well as composing waltzes and songs.

He described his comic-opera The Merchant Prince as 'in the Gilbertian tradition'. Set 40 years into the future (the late 1960s) when, to quote his plot synopsis, 'the only aristocracy is that of money nobility, by then entirely impoverished, are regarded as the lowest dregs of society indeed, to be a peer is the worst degradation.'

The production was first staged by Watford Operatic Society at Watford Palace Theatre on Sunday, March 26, 1928. The composer, local dentist and chairman of Watford School of Music, Sterling Hill, conducted the orchestra. A second performance was staged at the New Scala Theatre in London on May 30, 1928.

By 1929, Cox was still living at Monmouth House, albeit at No. 9, in which on High Street level a number of traders were doing business. W.S. Weller & Son, estate agent and auctioneer, was flanked by Gwatkin, a gentlemen's hosier; Shimwell & Brooks, a chemist; Bertram Gunton, an optician; and Miss Ferguson's Monmouth Manicure Parlour. At No. 11 was Maison Roberts, a confectioner; and at No. 13, Lyons, a fruiterer; Maison Charlette, high class milliners; and Bucks Garage.

Watford Observer:

A 1929 advertisement for Shimwell & Brooks at Monmouth House

In 1930, Cox founded the Detection Club, a London-based invitation-only club for mystery writers, which is still thriving. Its first president was G.K. Chesterton and early members included Agatha Christie, Hugh Walpole and Dorothy L. Sayers. Then, in 1941, Hollywood called and two of his novels were adapted into films. The psychological thriller Before the Fact became Suspicion, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, the latter being the only actor or actress to win an Oscar for a Hitchcock film. Though dated, it is well worth watching.

Cox abhorred King Edward VIII's abdication announcement in 1936 and, curiously, sought legal assistance in a bid to prove that Wallis Simpson's divorce proceedings were incomplete. He even aimed to be a witness for the prosecution if the matter went to court.

Watford Observer:

Monmouth House and The Platts painted by Cynthia Cox, Anthony Berkeley Cox's sister

A complex character, he relinquished crime novel writing after 15 years and concentrated on short crime stories, reviews and periodical contributions, of which there were many, and passed away in London in 1971. It's perhaps surprising that his Watford home, Monmouth House, doesn't have a Blue Plaque on its façade.

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.