After a year and a quarter of travel restrictions and stay-at-home guidelines, taking the train for days out and shopping expeditions is once again an option; one that we take for granted. But if we could travel back to 1838, the year of Queen Victoria’s coronation when steam locomotives were a novel method of transportation, we would find that an anonymous group of travellers had written ‘Railroadiana, A New History of England’: a ‘literary railroad’ guide for Londoners wishing to acquaint themselves with rural sections of their own country.
The first of a series, published by Simpkin, Marshall & Co., it featured the London & Birmingham Railway; a precursor to ‘Bradshaw’s Guides’, favoured by Michael Portillo. Watford and Bushey were featured as picturesque places of historic interest for the rail traveller to visit.
The location of Watford’s first station, near the bridge on St Albans Road, brought displeasure to the authors: ‘The primary object in the application of steam to railroad travelling being the economising of time, the inhabitants of Watford cannot be congratulated on enjoying the advantages of the discovery to its fullest extent, for the ‘line’ here, after intersecting the houses at the eastern end of the town, proceeds onwards for nearly two miles before it reaches the Watford ‘station’ a point where the western extremity of the town is one mile distant.’ They did not consider the reasons for the station’s location, but noted that ‘it afforded an opportunity to compare railway with omnibus speed.’
Such was the rivalry between Watford innkeepers at that time that they provided a choice of vehicles from the Essex Arms and the Rose & Crown, facing each other in Market Place, to carry passengers into town for refreshment. The mile-long journey was described: ‘A small portion of the high road from Watford to St Albans leading south, is lined with elms at the end of which, turning east, lies the town, ranging on both sides of the road for about a mile in length.’
Places cited as most interesting to the rail traveller 183 years ago were St Mary’s Church, Cashiobury (sic) Park and the village of Bushy (sic).
St Mary’s interior was hung with ‘a profusion of banners, some much decayed’ and an iron helmet and gloves ‘of some noble of the olden time’.
Cashiobury House was cited as: ‘The best in the county’ and visitors could view the ground floor rooms. ‘A very respectable and well-informed housekeeper points out what is most remarkable and performs her part with great correctness.’ A full-length portrait of Sir Thomas Coningsby with his servant Crickit and pet spaniel hung in the first room; a painting purchased by the Hulse family of Breamore in 1922 when the house contents were sold.
At the far end of the cloister was ‘the only original portrait extant of King Henry IV… the colours are still good.’ Next was the dining room, ‘of lofty and commodious dimensions’, and a small room that housed framed relics connected to the death of King Charles I.
Outside, ‘The noble beeches are arranged in clumps of five and six, and between each clump are many fine specimens of the brave old oak.’ The front lawn, ‘fine and dry, could be ridden or walked upon after a heavy rain as on the driest downs.’
From Watford, ‘a pleasant walk of a mile on the London Road leads to Bushy its history is not uninteresting. Its first Norman possessor, Geoffry (sic) de Mandeville, for having incurred the Pope’s displeasure, was suspended in lead on a tree in the Temple.’
Bushey Church, described as ‘a small venerable edifice’ with wooden tombs in the churchyard, bore ‘an inscription’, discovered some years earlier during repairs or alterations, stating it to have been ‘built in the year 1006.’ The inscription was later ‘transferred to an iron plate affixed to the wall of the western end of the church.’
From ‘remarkable’ Bushey Heath, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court, Windsor and the Thames, winding through Middlesex and Surrey, were ‘distinctly visible’. In contrast, Rickmansworth was ‘marked by the smoke, that unfailing indication of an English town, hovering over the spot.’ How times have changed.
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 the history of Watford, Bushey and Oxhey will take to the stage once again.