The Watford Observer is delighted to team up with Three Rivers Museum for a series that will remind readers of some of the people who, often now forgotten, made an impact on how their neighbours lived and worked. The next in the series is a farmer who left an enduring legacy.

Museum chairman Fabian Hiscock said: "Parsonage Farm, part of the ancient manor of Rickmansworth, included what is now Nightingale Road, Cedars Avenue and Townsfield. It was farmed by John White (b. June 1813) from at least 1839 (the tithe map confirms) until his death in April 1904 aged 90, and he kept a diary for all that time.

"An arable farmer, he worked some of the land at first with his farmer father William, of the adjacent Appletree Farm towards Chorleywood, but also other holdings rented on his own account. By 1861 he was able to describe himself as farming 400 acres and employing 19 men and eight boys – a sizeable holding for this area. He married Sophia Powell in 1841, and they had one child, Fanny, on who they clearly doted and who married William Hounsfield, one of the farm pupils, in 1865.

Watford Observer:

An 1860 oil painting of the farm

"John White was a man of his time, with shooting and (especially) hunting important sports, but he and Sophia were heavily engaged with local causes: he was a churchwarden of St Mary’s for about 50 years, a ‘manager’ of the town’s National schools and a leader of the Penny Reading Society, while she founded and led the Lads’ Club and ‘clothing clubs’ related to the schools. They were local people of real significance, travelling quite freely by railway to go to Watford and London as soon as they were available, otherwise by horse. Sophia died in 1896.

"But for us, John’s enduring legacy lies in his diaries, a wonderfully detailed account not only of his own life and work but also a deep insight into how people lived and worked round here. The tragedy is that the diaries themselves are missing: abstracts by Kenneth Jones covering about five years appeared in the Rickmansworth Historical Society’s journal in 1970 and 1971, so we know what was in them, and they are wonderful: but where they are now there is no clue.

"The full set of these most important records will have around 20 volumes, and if anyone has any information Three Rivers Museum would be very grateful to hear from them."

Three Rivers Museum has now re-opened following a significant refurbishment – details are on their website