A browse through my early postcard collection always prompts a smile. Messages from Watford residents and visitors of the distant past bring with them reminders of the vast differences in people's lives and expectations.

Soon after the 20th century dawned, M. Calis of Clapham, who was staying with friends in Holloway, wrote to Mrs. Bianchi of Woodford, Essex. 'I had some lovely motor rides - 60 miles. On the obverse, the writer added 'motored though here Saturday', 'here' being an utterly deserted Watford Market Place. Yet, in 1913, a writer of another postcard of Market Place wrote 'Watford is noisier than ever'!

In 1903 Blanche sent a postcard to Miss Richardson of Horsham, saying that she was 'fairly well, with the exception of the blues.' 'L.C.' was of a similar mindset. Nearly at the end of her holiday in Watford, she admitted to Miss R. Lane of Margate that 'the thought of London is enough to give me the blues'. On a third postcard of Market Place addressed to Mrs. Varney of Stowe Farm near Buckingham in 1905, the unknown writer had written single words vertically down three columns!

In July 1902, Master Victor Worsfold of Vinia, Bushey Grove Road, received a postcard of Cassiobury Park Gates. Someone notated around 70 years later: 'Now demolished by 'progress'. I think there are few of us who would disagree with the sentiment. Another postcard of Cassiobury Park Gates, probably the most popular view of Watford, was sent by Cousin Will to Miss Seabrooke of Woburn Sands. He wrote: 'This is the entrance to the park here. It looks very good, doesn't it. This lodge is very old and is a very curious little place inside.'

Watford Observer: Early 20th century postcard of a deserted Market Place.Early 20th century postcard of a deserted Market Place.

In 1904, a writer determined that no one else should read his message. It was cleverly coded for Miss Lee's eyes only and was addressed to her at 8 New Burlington Street, London. Many years ago, an Oxhey friend deciphered the message for me which revealed that the writer, a lovelorn Watford lad, used the code to express his feelings for Miss Lee. She was probably in service with a family, hence the need for discretion.

Watford Observer: 1904 coded message. A Watford Observer summer readers' challenge!1904 coded message. A Watford Observer summer readers' challenge!

Romance was also in the mind of Meredith of 120 Escourt Road. In October 1907, she confided to Mrs. Bush of Streatham, London in a postcard of the trout stream in Cassiobury Park: 'Lovely ride last night, about 15 miles, with that young fellow - moonlight. 'E.B.' wrote to Miss Violet, c/o Mrs. Staples in Penzance in July 1907 on a postcard of Grove Mill Lane: 'Hoping the little flower is enjoying her change of climate and not quite hiding herself all the time in the romantic scenery.'

Watford Observer: Scene by Watford Fire Station, 1907. B & D's 'Kromo' Series.Scene by Watford Fire Station, 1907. B & D's 'Kromo' Series.

In 1907 Kitty of 3 Grosvenor Road, Watford sent a postcard of Watford Fire Station to Alice and Daisy Mabbott of Rhos-on-Sea, depicting a lady cyclist in a wide-brimmed hat and long dress pedalling past Watford Fire Station. She noted: 'We are getting old ladies now, ain't we. When shall we wear bonnets?'

Mr. Atkins of 18 Queens Road was a popular Watford chimney sweep. Captain Harry Brydges, the Suffolk-born proprietor of the Clarendon Hotel (now O'Neills) by Watford Junction Station was anticipating a busy Christmas c1905. On 20 December he wrote on a postcard of his hotel: 'Please send [a sweep] tomorrow Thursday morning at 11 o'clock to clean three chimneys.'

Watford Observer: Clarendon Hotel by Watford Junction Station, c1905.Clarendon Hotel by Watford Junction Station, c1905.

In February 1906 'D' sent a Watford postcard of the canal lock to Miss Brown of Carbery Lodge, Ascot: 'Will you please send me my eiderdown again? I forgot it when I first packed and then had no room later. Also, will you put in my Bradley's Arnold Latin Grammar it has a brown oilcloth cover and is in the spare room, I think. Also, Aytoun's Lays [Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers & Other Poems by William Aytoun] in my room. Sorry to be such a nuisance.'

In 1912 'R.F.' of 33 Francis Road wrote to Mr. Sowter of Chichester: 'How are you all getting on in the shop? We have over 30 in the workshops here. Do a lot of electric light work. I start at 7. Breakfast 9.00-9.45. Dinner 1.45 to 2.45 and tea 5.15 to 6.00. Leave off 7.30 and have to work all the time.'

And, in 1916, 'E.P.' from Hornsey sent a postcard of Watford High Street to Miss N. Holmwood who worked at The Grove, letting her know that he was having a 'ripping time'; meaning an 'excellent' or 'great time'. The expression was usually associated with the early decades of the 1900s but, surprisingly, was first used in 1776.

  • 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.