With the railways constantly in the news, my thoughts return to childhood days when I loved standing by the bridge at Watford Heath to watch the speeding long-distance steam locomotives and carriages passing over the water trough. It was pure excitement.

Going further back in time, with a momentary diversion, The Illustrated London News front page on September 25, 1880 comprised an engraving of six young aproned girls at a cookery school. A 19th century parallel to 'Come Dine With Me', they were each asked to invite a gentleman to their six o'clock dinner. However, curiosity got the better of the gentlemen who arrived early and found their way into the kitchen, as well as the article and engraving. But what really caught my eye was an inside page on 'The Plot to Blow Up a London and North Western Railway Train' between Bushey and Watford stations.

During the night of Sunday, September 12, 1880, or the early hours of the following morning, dynamite was laid on the track. The discovery was made at 7.10am by plate layer John Heath. He found a paper parcel lying on an inward curve of the 20-foot-high embankment near a plantation, opposite Sedgwicks Brewery in Lower High Street. The bars that held the rails on the sleepers had been removed from both rails on the 'down' fast main line and a hole had been dug by the sleeper of the outer rail. The parcel had been placed inside the hole, with a cord lying alongside and a long piece of rubber tubing protruding. The two bars that had been removed, with the accompanying nuts and bolts, had been placed on top of the parcel, discovered partly torn and soaked by overnight rain.

Watford Observer:

An early photograph of Bushey Station, 'Watford, A Pictorial Record', 1951

John Heath noticed a red lead in the parcel, as well as a small crowbar by the rail track. He presumed the items had been left by telegraph workmen, so he placed the bars back and tightened the nuts with his fingers. Returning to Bushey Station, he met 'ganger', Joseph Holwood who quickly went to the spot, tightened the nuts with his spanner, took the parcel with the rubber tubing and crowbar, and showed them to the Bushey and Watford Stationmasters. They quickly telegraphed Euston.

Watford Observer:

Location of the dynamite between Bushey and Watford stations, The Illustrated London News, 1880

Superintendent Copping, head of Euston's detective department, arrived at Bushey Station and was joined by Inspector Isgate of Hertfordshire County Constabulary and Detective Warne of the Metropolitan Police. Upon initial examination, it was decided that a substance in the parcel was likely to have been dynamite or a similar explosive material. They found four 12-inch pieces of tubing filled with gunpowder, with percussion caps at the ends. The conclusion was reached that the parcel had been placed on the rail track and secured by the bars so that the train would run over the caps, setting fire to the gunpowder in the tubes and exploding the dynamite.

Watford Observer:

The track where the dynamite was placed, The Illustrated London News, 1880

The substance was later proved to be dynamite, contained within 27 cartridges, each about four inches long and an inch thick, wrapped in old newspaper with an outer layer of oiled paper and tied with twine. The package was soaked and some of the nitro-glycerine had been washed out.

The Illustrated London News reported on the destructive nature of the parcel but made no comment on the criminal motives of whoever had placed it on the track. Four years later, Watford historian Henry Williams noted in his 'History of Watford': 'At that time a Russian Grand Duke had been in London and was expected to have been a passenger in the Irish mail from Euston that passed Watford a short time before the parcel was found, and it was for the purpose of wrecking that train that the dynamite was laid.' Such was the quantity of explosives that, if detonated, the train would have been destroyed. Those responsible were never identified.

Watford Observer:

Derailment at Bushey Station, February 16, 1980

A rail accident at Bushey Station that I do remember was 100 years later, on February 16, 1980. A faulty weld caused the derailment of a London to Manchester express, bringing overhead wires down and overturning three carriages, resulting in a large number of casualties.

Watford Observer:

Bushey Station was the original designation but, from 1908, it was known as Bushey & Oxhey Station after New Bushey was renamed Oxhey. During World War Two, when station names were painted over to deter enemy troops, the '&' in the station name was left unpainted. Thus, for the duration of the war, it became known as Ampersand! In 1974, as a streamlining and cost-cutting measure, the name reverted to Bushey Station, despite being in Oxhey and a mile from Bushey.

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 www.pastdayspublishing.com 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.