We are fortunate that local historian Henry Williams recounted handed-down stories of eccentric inhabitants in his History of Watford of 1884. One such character was Squire Rogers Parker; an ancestor of the Holland-Hibbert family who have lived at Munden House for generations.

Squire Parker, who took over Munden in 1787 in his later years, was well known in Watford and far beyond for his eccentric habits, his kind and charitable nature and his amusing ‘whimsicality’.

He was observant beyond the ordinary and keen to reward what he considered ‘any clever or useful act done by those around him’. But, conversely, he punished anyone committing improper or lazy acts; punishments that the recipient would not forget.

Watford Observer: Munden House c1905Munden House c1905

Henry Williams tells us that one very wet day the squire’s cook needed some turnips. As his gardener was away at the time, he directed the cook to ask the coachman to fetch several from the garden. But the coachman refused with a curse, telling the cook that it was not his job. The squire, aware of the coachman’s reluctant nature, requested that his carriage and a pair of horses be brought to Munden’s front entrance.

The rain was still falling when he entered the carriage with his cook and ordered the coachman to take them into Watford. Arriving in High Street, the coachman was told to stop at the greengrocer’s shop. At that point, the squire put his head out of the carriage window and shouted “A penny’s worth of turnips, please”. On arrival back at Munden, he dismissed the coachman, who was soaked through, telling him that he hoped he would ‘profit’ by the lesson he had been given.

Watford Observer: Munden Avenue, c1910Munden Avenue, c1910

On another occasion, the squire’s bailiff was in the fields, overseeing the gathering in of the hay. Anticipating a change in the weather that morning, he asked the squire for permission to fetch an additional helper for the afternoon. The squire, however, had observed ‘the slow and careless manner’ in which the men were working. So, he hatched a plan. “Yes, I see you want another hand; leave it to me – you shall have one,” he said. In the early afternoon, he asked his butler to put his easy chair and a small table under a tree in the rick fields, where he could see the men working, and place a jug of ale and some tobacco on the table.

Watford Observer: Sketch of the hay gathering by Heulwen Jones, Pump House PaintersSketch of the hay gathering by Heulwen Jones, Pump House Painters

The butler did as he was ordered and Squire Parker sat in his chair, most likely in his farm labourer’s ‘smock frock’ which he frequently wore, sipping his home brew and blowing clouds of smoke from his long clay pipe. The squire often wore his farm smock in Watford Market, using his ‘spud’ for a walking stick. The effect was reported as ‘magical’! The labourers worked well, without any ‘loitering’, and the hay was gathered and stacked before the rain came. The squire told the bailiff that he was certain the task would not have been completed without his personal assistance.

The squire had a reputation for demanding that his orders were carried out ‘properly and promptly’ and, on occasion, those who provided poor service were kept waiting for their money. One London tradesman failed to attend to an urgent order and the squire withheld payment. When the tradesmen had a writ issued, the squire could not be found. Eventually, the tradesman resorted to giving the writ to Mr Bygrave, a Watford fisherman, who had previously helped him with such matters. Mr Bygrave was familiar with the squire, so devised a way of playing him at his own game.

Watford Observer: Munden Avenue, 1919Munden Avenue, 1919

He took his fishing tackle to the lake at Munden and prepared to throw his fly for a trout, whilst glancing across to the mansion. But the squire spotted him and summoned his butler to question the man. Mr Bygrave told the butler he had the squire’s written authority. Summoned to the house, the angry squire demanded to know why he was trespassing and fishing in his private lake. He also asked to see the document that supposedly gave him authority. Mr Bygrave placed the papers in the squire’s hand, but the papers comprised the writ. The squire read the document and, instead of raging, he smiled at Mr Bygrave.

Henry Williams tells us what happened next. The squire said: “You are a clever man and deserve to be rewarded. I felt very angry when I saw you fishing in my water, but I must own the stratagem you adopted to get at me is so clever and has pleased me so much that my anger has entirely left me. But you have trespassed on my land and laid yourself open to be summoned. Well, here’s a sovereign for you, which will help to pay the fine and costs if I summon you.”

Mr Bygrave had succeeded in his duties and left for Watford, with the sovereign in his pocket. Was he summoned by the squire? No, he never heard another word!

With thanks to Henry Holland-Hibbert and Heulwen Jones, Pump House Painters.

  • 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.