Those of us of mature years will remember Elliott’s, the music shop at the junction of Watford High Street and Upton Road. Well situated opposite Clements (now B&M), the display windows extended down the side of the imposing red-brick building, now alarmingly close to the flyover.

In my young days, Elliott’s was a gathering point for teenagers who savoured the shop’s wide selection of 33rpm long-play vinyl records and 45rpm singles. Musical instruments, record players, televisions, radios and sheet music were also stocked. Eagerly thumbing through record covers and scanning track titles, the busy High Street was momentarily obliterated.

If you were intent on a purchase you’d head to the desk, request a particular track and be directed to a numbered soundproof booth. Picking up the pair of top-quality headphones in each booth, you’d be carried away listening to the strains of the Beatles, Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, the Beach Boys or Tamla Motown. For the boys, perhaps Sandie Shaw, Helen Shapiro, Susan Maughan and Brenda Lee.

Watford Observer: Advertisement for Elliott's. Image: Watford, The Official Guide, 1929Advertisement for Elliott's. Image: Watford, The Official Guide, 1929

The explosion of pop music in the early 1960s was extraordinary and so is the fact that many of those songs remain popular in the 21st century. Another aspect is that we’re fed news by the media that vinyl is making a comeback after youngsters, and perhaps oldies, have had their fill of music streaming. Record covers, records and turntables are popular again. There’s nostalgia for you!

Let’s go back in time to Elliotts’ beginnings in 1887; yes, it was a long-established and highly reputable business. The proprietor, Mr W.J. Elliott, had worked for ten years at Cramer & Co. of Regent Street and Conduit Street, London. Cramer’s was founded in 1824 by the German-born, London-domiciled Johann Baptist Cramer and two colleagues. Cramer was known to Beethoven and Haydn, and recognised as one of the greatest pianists of his time. He was also a music publisher.

Thus, when Mr Elliott set up his shops in Queens Road (pre-1891); Chequer Street, St Albans (1887); and Station Road, Harrow (1901), his credentials were unsurpassed. The Hertford branch was established later. But Mr Elliott looked upon himself simply as ‘a practical and experienced tradesman’; astute enough to take over the late Henry Goodyear’s shop at 176 High Street and Mr Meredith’s shop in Queens Road.

Watford Observer: Elliott's shop at 49 Queens Road. Image: Watford in 1891Elliott's shop at 49 Queens Road. Image: Watford in 1891

The Queens Road shop at 49 The Broadway, opposite the old Post Office, was adjacent to Derby Road. It had a smart olive-green painted frontage, below which were two extensive double-windows displaying ‘choice’ violins, flutes piccolos, concertinas and cornets, as well as classical, patriotic and ‘modern’ sheet and book music and songs. The generous interior boasted pianoforte and music showrooms, practice rooms, a gramophone salon and a repair workshop at the rear. The firm’s motto was: ‘He who misses music misses much’.

Mr Elliott stocked top-quality Metzler, Hopkinson, Chappell, Bord, Collard & Collard, Brinsmead, Erard and Knauss pianos and organs, as well as pianolas and harmoniums. His own Elliott pianos were Watford-made.

He was proud that his musical instruments were well below London prices, ‘to say nothing of the carriage from London’. A Collard & Collard piano listed elsewhere at 50 guineas was available from him for just 35 guineas (£3,900 today). In 1891: ‘the gentry and public of Watford and district have not been slow to recognise this, and many families who formerly obtained instruments from London now deal solely with Mr Elliott.’

Watford Observer: Elliott's 'Challenge' piano. Image: Watford in 1891Elliott's 'Challenge' piano. Image: Watford in 1891

Pianos and organs were available for purchase or hire; delivered free upon payment of the first month’s hire and ‘kept in tune for one year gratis.’ Musical instruments for concerts and balls could be hired from Mr Elliott, and his team of assistants were available to tune and repair instruments. Intending purchasers of smaller instruments would receive his ‘utmost attention and courtesy’ and ‘special favourable terms’ were offered to cash buyers. For example, his ‘Challenge’ piano in a walnut and gold case, guaranteed for seven years, was offered for cash at £21 (£2,200 today).

Mr Elliott’s businesses thrived and, by the start of World War One, the Queens Road premises had twice been enlarged and he had acquired a piano motor van for the transportation of pianos and organs.

Watford Observer: Watford Football Club programme for the Rigby Taylor Cup Final on March 12, 1956 . Courtesy of Geoff Wicken Watford Football Club programme for the Rigby Taylor Cup Final on March 12, 1956 . Courtesy of Geoff Wicken

After World War One, his nephew, (Thomas) Rigby Taylor, joined Elliott’s. An injury during the war led him to become a wireless operator; skills that proved highly useful, because the firm was an agent for, amongst others, Marconi and Langham Radio. Rigby Taylor achieved the role of managing director before taking over the business and undertook the move in 1931 from Queens Road to the purpose-built Rigby House at 30 The Parade. Prior to the move, ‘Elliott’s Studios’ had opened the Watford Conservatoire of Music at the shop, offering music, singing and dramatic art lessons with, impressively, Sir Henry Wood as Vice-President.

Rigby Taylor, known as ‘Mr Watford’, became a leading light in Watford life. He was Secretary of Watford Tradesmen’s Association & Chamber of Trades, Chairman of Watford Football Club from 1939 until 1958, Mayor from 1937-38 and chairman of many local societies and associations. His dedicated endeavours live on in the town’s annals.

Today, teenagers no longer crowd into Rigby House to hear the latest records. The building now comprises numerous apartments on the upper four floors, with McDonald’s at street level. Changed times indeed.

With thanks to Geoff Wicken

  • 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.