An old Watford paper bag has been lurking in my local history collection for decades; in fact, since my grandmother died in 1979. Why did she retain a paper bag from the early 1900s? I’d never understood what significance it may have held for her, but I have a theory.

Agnes Mary Jane Humphries came to Oxhey from Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire; one of nine children. Her eldest sister, Elizabeth Elsie, had married William Joseph Phipps in 1905 and settled in Grover Road. A few years later, their son William Henry (Harry) was born and the family moved to 132 Pinner Road. While Agnes’ brothers remained in Bourton-on-the-Water, helping their father in his haulage and farming business, the remaining girls left home in search of domestic service positions. Elizabeth Elsie may have heard by word of mouth that Dr. Herbert Charles Wimble, the well-respected physician and surgeon and his wife Mary Isabel, who lived at Oatlands, 47 Chalk Hill, Oxhey, required a domestic servant. With none of her own family members living nearby and a young son to look after, Elizabeth Elsie must have considered the benefits of having a sibling nearby and no doubt alerted Agnes.

Watford Observer:

Agnes Humphries when she came to Oxhey

In those Edwardian days, when a significant one in seven employees in England were domestic servants, ladies of the house often registered their requirements with a servants’ registry, eliminating the need to advertise in the local or national press. They were only required to cite the duties the prospective employee would be expected to provide and the wage offered. The registry would then ‘suit’ them, having interviewed domestic servants with first-class character references who were seeking placements. Having said that, there was no legal obligation on employers to provide references and fraudulent ones were not uncommon. Most towns had at least one servants’ registry, the forerunner of today’s employment agency, but then both employer and servant generally paid a fee for the ‘suiting’ service. Registries tended to be run by experienced former servants who had invested their life savings and operated within a such a shop as Goodson’s Bazaar in Watford.

Goodson’s Bazaar was a ‘foreign, fancy and cabinet goods’ shop at 93 High Street, then seven shops up from Loates Lane. ‘Bazaar’ implied a mixed collection of goods and ornaments such as pin cushions, fans, and small personal and household items. Heading the business was Arthur Clement Goodson, a poster artist and sculptor born in Watford in 1869, and his wife Emily (nee Griffin), who looked after their five children and the shop whilst living above the premises.

Watford Observer:

Goodson's Bazaar bag, early 1900s

The paper bag, carefully retained by my grandmother, advertises Hieratica and Victoria Cross notepaper and envelopes. Hieratica stationery, in those days, was widely promoted as ‘Ancient Writing Paper of the Priests’ and ‘delightful to write upon’. Its engraved trademark was of two ancient Egyptians; one writing with reed pen on papyrus, the other giving instructions, in keeping with the stationery’s meaning: an ancient simplified form of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The upmarket watermarked paper was sold in packs of five quires (24 or 25 sheets in a quire, equalling 120 or 125 sheets) for 1/- (5p); court envelopes 100 for 1/-; thin writing paper for foreign correspondence, five quires for 1/-; mourning notes with black edging, five quires for 1/6d (8p); and mourning envelopes with black edging, 1/6d for 100. Victoria Cross stationery seems to have disappeared in the mists of time.

Goodson’s Bazaar also sold a ‘great variety of Watford views.’ This was the golden era of postcards in which local views such as Cassiobury Park Gates, St. Mary’s Church and the Pond quickly disappeared off shops’ racks, to be posted with a halfpenny stamp or retained as part of a collection. In those far off days, young people enthusiastically joined Postcard Exchanges in order to make new friendships. Folded greetings cards had not yet found favour, so postcard views of the town overprinted with ‘Birthday Greetings’ or ‘Happy Christmas’ proved popular.

Goodson’s customers for Berlin wools and silks would have been middle-class needleworking ladies who bought the untwisted, brightly coloured woollen yarn to stitch onto pre-printed picture patterns, which were no doubt sold in the shop alongside the silk and beads used to create highlights on the fashionable needlework.

The shop also sold popular Watford-crested china ornaments stamped underneath with ‘Made for Goodson’s Bazaar’. Apart from satisfying the national crazes of postcard views, Berlin wools and silks and crested china, Goodson’s was amongst a handful of toy shops in Watford. ‘Mrs. Arthur Goodson’ was listed in local trade directories as a toy dealer. It must have been a veritable Aladdin’s cave. The shop was still operating when Arthur Goodson died in 1927 and, after it closed, his widow retired to 59 Raglan Gardens, Oxhey.

Watford Observer:

The same view of Watford High Street as the top of this page but from c1921. Loosley's new building is evident

There was another servants’ registry near Goodson’s. G.W. Loosley & Co., booksellers, stationers and printers, was near St. Mary’s Church, diagonally opposite. Their early advertising, which included promotion of a circulating library, indicated that there was no charge for servants applying to the registry. The premises were rebuilt c1910 to form a ‘commanding shop’ with its attached Loosley’s Registry Office for Servants. Servant numbers were to be decimated by World War One, although registries continued for some years afterwards. Loosley's was still in business at the end of the 1920s at Dudley’s Chambers near Clarendon Road.

I conclude that Agnes, my grandmother, secured her position as domestic servant with Dr. Wimble and his family at the Registry Office for Ladies and Servants at Goodson’s Bazaar. She may well have kept the paper bag because of where and to whom her domestic service led. It led to Royal Fusiliers Bandsman, Reginald William Parrish, and a happy married life in Oxhey and Watford.

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.