‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’ said Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the United States, politician, diplomat, author, printer, publisher, scientist, inventor and keen river swimmer. Words that are so true.

I’ve come across a number of industrious local people who, around 100 years ago, shared their time and skills to improve people’s lives, but whose names are now little known.

For example, take Emeline Bradford JP of Park Cottage, 68 Hempstead Road. Born in 1871 in Bromley, she became a member of the Watford Board of Guardians at 40 years of age. She was also Alderman of Herts County Council and worked for the Land Army, helping in canteens during World War One. Post war, she initiated voluntary committees for maternity and child welfare and dental treatment for Watford’s school children. She died in 1959; a single lady who did her best for the area.

Watford Observer: Lady Maude Dawson by Bassano Ltd, 1924, Image: National Portrait Gallery, LondonLady Maude Dawson by Bassano Ltd, 1924, Image: National Portrait Gallery, London

Emeline wasn’t the only woman to strive for better things. Lady Maude Elizabeth Dawson of Quickley Brow, Chorleywood, born in Berkshire in 1882, was Honorary Secretary of Chorleywood Nursing Association between 1920 and 1933. During World War One, she worked at the Munition Makers’ Canteen in London.

Emily Beall, born in Dunstable in 1878, lived in Leightondene, 35 Rickmansworth Road. A Watford Borough Councillor in 1933, she was a member of Watford’s Technical Education Committee, Court of Referees and the National Council of Women. She was also Sub-Treasurer of the Watford Nurses’ Association and Vice-President of Watford’s Towns Women Guilds Committee (sic).

Apart from being a local councillor, Emily’s husband Herbert was Watford School Manager from 1928 until 1935, a member of Juvenile Employment, President of Watford & District Ratepayers’ Association and Vice-President of Watford Chamber of Trade. He was a draper and Emily was a ladies’ outfitter. A busy couple.

Margaret Fleming was born in Edinburgh in 1896 and was educated in Buckinghamshire. Married to land agent John Fleming of Church Farm, Aldenham, she was Vice-President of the Herts Branch of the Red Cross Society, the county council representative for Aldenham on Watford Rural Education Sub-Committee, and a member of the Watford Public Assistance Committee and the Watford Isolation Hospital Board. She was Honorary Secretary of Aldenham Players, a member of the English Ladies’ Lacrosse XII and the Great Britain Ladies’ Lacrosse XII.

Henry Coates, an electrical engineer of 138 Hempstead Road, Watford, was born in 1886 in Lancashire. In the 1920s he was a member of Watford Borough Council and Chairman of the Electricity Committee and the Water Supply Committee. He was on the Finance, Estates, Fire Brigade and Baths Committees and joined the Watford Higher Education Sub-Committee in 1919. He was Governor of Watford Grammar School in the 1930s, a member of the Council of Watford School of Music, a founder member of Watford Rotary Club and, after World War One, a member of the Local Employment Committee.

Retired builder Arthur Flint JP, born in 1878 at Woodside, Leavesden, was a member of Watford Rural District Council, Watford Assessment Committee, Watford Joint Isolation Hospital Board, Herts. County Council and Watford Guardians’ Committee.

Grocer George Asbery of Bushey Heath was born in 1872 in Rotherham. He was a member of Bushey Urban District Council for more than 20 years, during which time he was Chairman, and President of Bushey Chamber of Trade. He was also a Sergeant in the Bushey Special Constabulary.

Watford Observer: Dr Thomas Harvey. Image: David NelsonDr Thomas Harvey. Image: David Nelson

Dr Thomas Harvey was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1882 and settled in Bury Cottage, Rickmansworth. In 1918 he was Medical Practitioner ‘Public Assistance No. 4 District’ in Watford and Public Vaccinator for Rickmansworth District, Herts County Council, in 1935. He was a local cricket captain and Trustee of Rickmansworth Cricket & Sports Club.

Accountant Francis Hemming JP of 58 Kingsfield Road; later Alwyne Lodge, Rickmansworth Road, was born in 1866 in Bromsgrove. In 1910 he was appointed to the Watford Higher Education Sub-Committee. He was elected to Watford Urban District Council in 1918 and became Mayor and Alderman in 1928. A member of Herts Education Committee, Herts Public Assistance and Insurance Committees and the Joint Hospital Board, Chairman of the Corporation Finance Committee, County Commissioner of the Peace Memorial Hospital, he was also a Grammar School Governor.

Solicitor Herbert Sumpter was born in 1872 in Surrey. He lived at 35 Monmouth Road, Watford, and was Chairman of West Herts County Council, Secretary of Watford Horse Show, honorary Solicitor to the Middle Classes Union (later the National Citizens’ Union), a member of the Bushey Hall Golf Club committee, and its oldest playing member.

Most of these people were not born locally, but came to the area and strived to make it a better place for people to live and socialise. Certain others are well documented in local history books and their names are familiar, but I thought it worth acknowledging those above whose names have disappeared in the mists of time.

Watford Observer: William Ernest Blackburn CBE. Image: Mark BlackburnWilliam Ernest Blackburn CBE. Image: Mark Blackburn

Lastly, a local person of national interest was William Ernest Blackburn CBE of Littlecote, Merry Hill Road, Bushey. He was General Manager of Smithfield & Argentine Meat Co. Ltd. and became the United States-based Director and, latterly, chairman of the British Ministry of Food during World War Two.

  • 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.