Watford owes its origins to the point at which the River Colne was forded by travellers between London and the Midlands. The original name of ‘Watter’s Ford’ (named after a local landowner) was eventually contracted to Watford.
By the Medieval age, Watford consisted only of one long high street with a market place next to St Mary’s Church. (In 1100 Henry I gave Watford a charter to hold a weekly market.) It is along this high street and around the churchyard that today’s oldest buildings survive – the Church and a number of timber framed houses or shops. Being just half a days journey from London, Watford became an attractive country retreat for noblemen who wished to maintain contact with London.
Watford remained an agricultural town until the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, which brought with it the Grand Junction Canal in 1798 and the London to Birmingham railway in 1837. These changes were the foundation of the excellent communications that the town enjoys today. Subsequently the town expanded slowly from its medieval core. The ‘New Town’ sprung up adjacent to the original railway station beside St Albans road, with other areas such as Oxhey and the Estcourt Road area also emerging after the 1860's.
After the Great War, house building took off once again in the 1920's with the construction of the southern part of the Cassiobury Estate and the first municipal housing – notably, the Harebreaks Estate. The growth of the town in the 1920's continued into the next decade with large numbers of semi-detached houses being built in the northern half of Watford, including what is now the Tudor Estate and the completion of Cassiobury. The 1950’s saw further Council built housing at Meriden and Woodside in the north and at Holywell in the South.
The development of the Town Centre occurred in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the ring road, underpass by the Town Hall and multi-story car parks all servicing the growing town centre. This growth did not slacken during the 1980’s and 1990’s, with Clarendon Road being redeveloped with a second generation of office buildings. Even more significant was the construction of the Harlequin shopping centre, which has transformed Watford into a renowned shopping destination.
Today the population of Watford stands at approximately 80,000 and the continuing growth of the town is evident all around us.
For more information on the history of Watford, visit the Watford Museum, at 194 High St, WD17 2DT. Web site, www.watfordmuseum.org.uk.
Notable Watford People
Watford was the birthplace of:
- Geri Halliwell, singer and former Spice Girl
- Vinnie Jones, English football player and actor
- Nick Knight, cricketer.
- Josh Lewsey, World Cup winning England rugby player
- Mo Mowlam, Government Minister