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.

‘Neggy’ Wilson was one of Croxley Green’s most influential personalities in the first years of the 20th century, and is fondly remembered to this day.

Henry Thomas Wilson was born in north Kent in 1870, the fifth of a family of nine children. He was a professional teacher, and became head teacher of a school in Hendon in his late 20s. It was his time as head of Croxley Green National (boys’) School that made him a figure of renown in Croxley Green. The origins of the universal nickname ‘Neggy’ are wholly unknown, but it defined the man for generations of his pupils.

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‘Neggy’ Wilson never married, but at least one of his sisters lived with him in New Road, Yorke Road and on the Green for most of the rest of his life.

He came almost by accident, visiting Croxley Green in the summer of 1901: finding the headship of the National School in Watford Road, next to what became the Duke of York pub, vacant, he applied for and got the job.

He made his mark at once: he insisted on correct diction and grammar, played the piano for singing lessons – and knew at once if someone was missing from a group of boys.

Tall and slight of build, he was incensed by unfair or thoughtless behaviour, and used the cane when he had to. But one of his pupils recollected over thirty years later that "he was a great master – done a lot for us boys... he bought everything - stumps, bats, pads – and the same with football".

Sport was as important to him as the arts: he would take groups of boys to Lords or to the Old Vic, and got permission to use the northern part of the Green as a cricket field, which he then levelled and rolled himself.

He said that he’d never played a game of football, but he happily refereed so that the boys would be able to play. He was chairman of the cricket club, founded the Croxley Green Society, conducted the church choir, wrote the basic script for the Croxley Mummers still used today and set in hand the Croxley Green War Memorial.

It was said with good reason that Croxley Green was run at this time by the doctor, the vicar, the mill manager and the school master, and they certainly worked closely together (although not always harmoniously) in many initiatives.

‘Neggy’ Wilson retired from teaching in 1934, but continued prominently in the village. His pupils continued to visit him until the very end of his life in 1952: he was, one said later, "an extraordinary man".

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