It’s that creepy time of year again when the shops are full of pumpkins and scary witches’ masks.

Back in the early 1970s when Alan Ball was librarian at Watford Central Library, he noted in his book ‘Street and Place Names in Watford’ that the ‘hag’ part of Hagden, as in Hagden Lane, may have referred to a witch.

Watford historian Henry Williams mentioned unearthly sightings and noises in Hagden Lane in the 19th century. A gliding spectre in white was supposedly seen in the late 18th/early 19th century after a Pesthouse resident known as Jockey Fenson who committed suicide in Featherbed Lane was buried in a dell in Hagden Lane, ‘a short distance beyond the turning to Tolpits and Polecat Farm’. People became so fearful of walking by the dell that eventually the body was reburied at night in a corner of the old churchyard at St Mary’s.

Watford Observer: St Mary's Churchyard, c1905St Mary's Churchyard, c1905

Henry Williams also noted that Feather Bed Lane, the bridlepath near Watford Junction Station, had been the site of strange occurrences and, even in the late 1800s, was still avoided by many local people. The then-shady path, known today as The Bridleway, began on the left side of the station and followed the edges of fields, leading the Victorian walker to St Albans Road near the bridge.

In those days, it was below field level, with high banks on either side, screened by elms that met overhead.

In the 1840s, when he was a boy, he heard that a young man, uncertain of his girlfriend’s dedication, asked her to meet him there late one night so he could tell her something of importance. She arrived on time but he was unexpectedly delayed. Whilst looking around by the light of the moon, she noticed a recently-dug grave partly hidden by overhanging bushes. She ran and saved her life.

The same local historian also wrote of spectral sights in the Watford railway tunnel where, several decades earlier, a number of men had tragically lost their lives during its construction. In the same context, he mentioned St Mary’s Churchyard and a house by Loates Lane in the High Street.

No. 97 had been left untenanted after it was declared that the spirit of a deceased lady who had once lived there was haunting the premises. David Downer, hairdresser, stationer and stamp distributor and brother of celebrated Watford photographer Frederick Downer, was considered bolder than most when he moved into the house for a modest rental. Fortunately, during the years he lived and traded there, he was never disturbed.

Around 1860, in an area near Leavesden that Henry Williams described as a locally ‘haunted’ place, there was a strange occurrence.

One night, the watchman by the Pond saw an animal approaching him; a harnessed donkey, dragging the shafts of a cart. He put the animal in the old pound by the Cross Roads at the top of St Albans Road. An hour later, Old Bowler, a local salt hawker, enquired about the donkey. The watchman listened to his tale. The hawker had been passing ‘Old Mother Shipton’s Wood’ at a corner of land leading to Leavesden when something ‘covered in white, jumped out of the hedge’ and frightened his donkey so much that it jumped in the air, broke the shafts off the cart and galloped away. Old Bowler, alarmed and left sitting in his cart, stared at the object in white before it vanished. But when news of the story broke in Watford, it was less credulous than it might have been, as Old Bowler was known for his eccentric drunken habits. An odd tale, though!

Watford Observer: An unrecognisable Leavesden Road, 1915An unrecognisable Leavesden Road, 1915

Henry Williams recorded that education was dispelling beliefs in spectres but, even in the last quarter of the 1800s, there were Watfordians who had not cast off their opinions.

A large house called The Elms (formerly Townsend House) stood where the Town Hall was later built. In the mid-1800s, there were fine old elm trees in the grounds; home to many barn owls which hatched their young there. But one day the wind broke off the top of one of the trees and the owls disappeared, never to return.

To bring the subject into more modern times, I quote my father from his book ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’: ‘Hauntings and apparitions are by no means confined to the past. There was an incident at Odhams, reported in the Evening Post-Echo of 20 December 1979, in which employee Jim Dinwoodie claimed to have seen on at least 15 occasions the head and shoulders of a man wearing navy blue overalls.’

Watford Observer: A spooky-looking figure on Deacons Hill, c1905A spooky-looking figure on Deacons Hill, c1905

I was told an old folk tale many years ago regarding a small patch of land on Deacons Hill, to the left of the entrance to Oxhey Park, on which ‘rain never fell’. Tommy Deacons Hill, once a footpath, was apparently where one of the many Thomas Deacons had an accident and died. Family names were repeated over the generations, so who knows which Thomas, but could he have been buried there? Happy Hallowe’en!

  • 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 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.