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Watford ( ) is a town and district in Hertfordshiremarker, Englandmarker, situated northwest of central Londonmarker and within the bounds of the M25 motorwaymarker. The borough is separated from Greater Londonmarker to the south, by the urban parish of Watford Ruralmarker in the Three Rivers District. The nearby areas of Busheymarker, Rickmansworthmarker, Chorleywoodmarker, Kings Langleymarker, Abbots Langleymarker and South Oxheymarker, located in Three Rivers and Hertsmeremarker districts, also form part of the Watford postcode areamarker. The most recent official estimates put the population of Watford at 79,600 at mid-2006.The borough had 79,726 inhabitants at the time of the 2001 Census. The Watford urban area, which includes much of neighbouring Three Rivers, had a total population of 120,960 in the 2001 census, making it the 47th largest urban area in England. Watford was created as an urban district under the Local Government Act 1894, and became a municipal borough by grant of a charter in 1922.



Watford stands on a low hill near the point at which the River Colnemarker was ford by travellers between Londonmarker and the Midlandsmarker.This route, originally a pre-Roman trackway, departed from the ancient Roman Watling Streetmarker at Stanmoremarker, heading for the Gade valley and thence up the Bulbourne valley to a low and easily traversed section of the Chiltern Hillsmarker near Tringmarker.The modern High Street follows the route of this road.

The ford was close to the later site of the old gas works, now the car park of the Tesco Extra store.The town probably originated in Saxon times as a string of houses on the northern side of this ford. It was located on the first dry ground above the marshy edges of the River Colne.

It is generally agreed that the town is named after the ford, but the origin of the first part of the name is uncertain.Theories include the Old English words (wet), (wade), watul (wattle, a fence) or wath (hunter), Watling Street, and a hypothetical Saxon landowner called "Wata".

Early history

Watford is first mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 1007. It does not get a mention by name in the Domesday Book, but was included in the entry for the then more important settlement of Cashio which stood half a mile away at the crossroads of the St Albans road and Hempstead road near the modern Town Hall.

The settlement's location helped it to grow, since as well as trade along this north-south through route it possessed good communications into the vale of St Albansmarker to the east and into the Chiltern Hillsmarker along the valley of the River Chessmarker to the west. In 1100 Henry I granted a charter to Watford to hold a weekly market.

St Mary's Church
The parish church of St Mary the Virgin was built in 1230 on the same site as an earlier Saxon church. It was extensively restored in 1871.

The great houses of Cassioburymarker and The Grovemarker were built in the seventeenth centuries and expanded and developed throughout the following centuries.Cassiobury became the family seat of the Earls of Essex, and The Grove the seat of the Earls of Clarendon.

The Sparrows Herne turnpike was established in 1762 to improve the route across the Chilterns, with the road maintained from charges levied at toll houses along the way. The location of a toll house can be seen at the bottom of Chalk Hill on the Watford side of Bushey Arches close to the Wickes hardware store; set in an old flint stone wall is a Sparrows Herne Trust plaque.

Industrial Revolution

Watford remained an agricultural community with some cottage industry for many centuries. The Industrial Revolution brought the Grand Junction Canalmarker (now Grand Union Canalmarker) in 1798 and the London and Birmingham Railway in 1837, both located here for the same reasons the road had followed centuries before, seeking an easy gradient over the Chiltern Hillsmarker. The land-owning interests permitted the canal to follow closely by the river Gade, but the prospect of smoke-emitting steam trains drove them to ensure the railway gave a wide berth to the Cassiobury and Grove estates. Consequently, although the road and canal follow the easier valley route, the railway company was forced to build an expensive tunnel under Leavesden to the north of the town. The main Watford railway station was and remains outside of the town centre to the east at Watford Junction.

These developments gave the town excellent communications and stimulated its industrial growth during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Watford is a major regional centre for the northern home counties. It is the most westerly of these commercial centres and the only one in Hertfordshire. Hertfordshire County Council designates Watford and Stevenagemarker to be its major sub-regional centres, heading its list of preferred sites for retail development.The primary shopping area is the Harlequin Shopping Centremarker, a large purpose-built indoor mall with over 140 shops, restaurants and cafes built during the 1990s, opened officially in June 1992.

The High Street, running through the town centre, is the main focus of activity at night having a high concentration of the town's bars, clubs and restaurants.

The head offices of a number of national companies such as British Waterways, Camelot Group, operator of the National Lottery; Iveco, manufacturers of commercial vehicles; Haden Young, the building services division of Balfour Beatty; Bathstore, the largest bathroom retailer in the UK; construction firm Taylor Woodrow; and Mothercare, are located in the town. The borough is also the UK base of many multi-nationals including Total Oil, Sanyo, TK Maxx, Costco, Vinci, and Beko. International golf tournaments such as the 2006 World Golf Championship have taken place at the Grovemarker hotel.

The town was home to the Scammell Lorries Factory from 1922 until its closure in 1988. The site is now a residential area. Tandon motorcycles, founded by Devdutt Tandon, were also manufactured in Colne Way, By-Pass road, Watford from 1947 until 1959. Models included the Imp, the Milemaster, the Superglide and the Kangaroo.

Plans are underway to develop a new Health Campus complete with heliport adjacent to the site of the current Watford General Hospital.



Watford is close to strategic roads - the M25 motorwaymarker that rings London and the M1 motorway that connects Londonmarker to the Midlandsmarker and northern England.


The town is served by one of the principal National Rail north-south rail routes – the West Coast Main Linemarker – which connects Londonmarker (terminus at Eustonmarker) to the Midlands, north-west England and Scotlandmarker. Some long-distance trains on this route serve Watford Junctionmarker, where there are also frequent suburban and regional trains. There is a shuttle train servicemarker to St Albansmarker, via some local stations in North Watfordmarker, and a direct rail connection to Gatwick Airportmarker and the south coast via Clapham Junctionmarker.

London Overground services run from Watford Junction along a suburban loop to Watford High Street stationmarker and Bushey stationmarker, continuing along the West London Line to Clapham Junction and along the Watford DC Linemarker to Euston.

London Underground serves Watfordmarker Metropolitan Line station at the outer north-western boundary of the Tube system. The station is located outside the centre of Watford, close to Cassiobury Parkmarker. If the proposed Croxley Rail Linkmarker goes ahead, the Metropolitan Line branch would be diverted to Watford Junction via the disused Croxley Greenmarker branch, providing two new Underground stations between Croxley and Watford Junction.

It has been suggested that Regional Eurostar services could run from Watford to Parismarker via Kensington Olympiamarker.The Select Committee on Environment, Transport and the Regions recommended:

"We believe that Watford is well placed to become an integrated transport hub, and we recommend that the Government's review should consider what benefits and costs would be associated with direct services from Watford, and thorough services on the West Coast Main Line calling at Watford. Subject to the review's findings, we recommend that services from Watford to Paris should commence as soon as possible. The proposal for a Watford hub, as outlined in broad terms in ICRR's report is of interest to the Government. If there is a possibility that services to link the regions to the Channel Tunnel could be provided by such a link, the Government would be keen to see such a service operate."


Watford is on the main Grand Union Canalmarker route northwards from London. There is little commercial use, since the advent of the railway, but the canal is used for recreational purposes.

The River Gade and the River Colnemarker also run through Watford.


Regular and frequent bus and coach services connect Watford Junction station to Heathrowmarker Airport and Luton Airportmarker, direct train services run from Watford Junction Station to Birmingham International Airportmarker and also used to run to Gatwickmarker (as of 2009 is mandatory to change train at Clapham Junctionmarker or London Eustonmarker and London Victoria Stationmarker).

Watford's closest airfield is Elstree Aerodromemarker, east of the town. Many private charters, as well as occasional holiday charters take off from here, with the on-request customs service contributing to the popularity of this airfield.

The Rolls Royce or de Havilland factory as it was known in World War II at Leavesden was responsible for the manufacture of the Mosquito fighter bomber and the Halifax bomber during the second world war and later became Leavesden Aerodrome, to the north of Watford, which is no longer operational. It was converted into Leavesden Film Studiosmarker, now famously the home of the Harry Potter films.



Watford Free School building

William Saunders noted in 1595 a "George Redhead, schoolmaster" of Watford, and in 1640 Francis Combe gave £10 a year to a Free School in Watford for teaching the poor to cast accounts, to read English and to write.It was recorded then that, "The master hath the use of a room over two houses belonging to the Church Estate, nearest the churchyard."In 1704, Mrs Elizabeth Fuller of Watford Place built a new Free School for forty boys and twenty girls on her land next to the churchyard, with rooms for a Master and a Mistress.

In the mid-19th century, the only schools in Watford were Mrs Fuller's Free School, by now in a poor state, and St Mary's National School (separate schools for boys and girls) in Church Street.All offered elementary education.State-funded elementary schools began to appear in the 1860s and 1870s.The Free School closed in 1882, and its endowment contributed to founding the Watford Endowed Schools, which provided secondary education and charged fees.After these schools, now called the Watford Grammar School for Boysmarker and the Watford Grammar School for Girlsmarker, moved to new sites in 1907 and 1912, the building housed the Watford Central School, which taught pupils up to the age of 14.St Mary's National Schools closed in 1922, and the site is now a car park.

The London Orphan Asylummarker, later Reed's School, was located near Watford Junction stationmarker between 1871 and 1940.The buildings are now the Reeds housing estate off Orphanage Road.

Primary schools

All the state-funded primary schools in Watford are co-educational.Under an earlier system, schools were divided into infant schools, covering Reception and Years 1 and 2, and junior schools, covering Years 3 to 6.Most such schools have amalgamated to form Junior Mixed Infant schools or (equivalently) primary schools, and all new schools are of this type.Within the municipal borough, there are now 6 linked pairs of infant schools and junior schools, and 14 JMI or primary schools, of which 2 are Roman Catholic.The Watford urban area is also served by schools in the neighbouring districts of Three Rivers and Hertsmeremarker.

Secondary schools

Although all state-funded secondary schools in Hertfordshiremarker are comprehensive, there is a great deal of differentiation in the southwestern corner of the county, centred on Watford but also including most of the Three Rivers district and Busheymarker in Hertsmeremarker district.Within this area, there are: The partially selective schools and Bushey Meads School operate common admissions tests in mathematics and non-verbal reasoning each autumn.In addition to those seeking selective places, all applicants to Bushey Meads and Queens' Schools are required to take the tests, so they are taken by the majority of Year 6 children in the area.The partially selective schools also operate a common test and audition procedure to select children for specialist music places.

Results achieved by the schools at GCSE are also widely spread, including the three highest and the two lowest scoring state schools within Hertfordshiremarker.The area also has by far the highest incidence in the county of children allocated to schools to which they had not applied.


Watford is home to professional football team Watford F.C., who reached the FA Cup Final in 1984 (as well as four other semi-finals), also finishing as league runners-up in 1983. They were relegated from the old Division One in 1988. In 1996, Watford were relegated from the new Division One (now Football League Championship).

Watford won the then Nationwide Division Two championship in 1998, then the following season (1998–99) reached the Premiership by winning the First Division Play-Off Final, beating Bolton Wanderers F.C. at Wembley Stadiummarker by two goals to nil. The club were relegated the season after.

After five years of uncertainty, Watford won the Football League Championship Play-Off Final against all the odds to achieve promotion to the Premiership once again in 2006, this time beating Leeds United A.F.C. by three goals to nil. Again, as before they were relegated to the Football League Championship after a single season (2006–2007) in the Premiership.

Singer-songwriter Sir Elton John is a keen, long-term supporter of Watford F.C. and a former club chairman.He still maintains his links with Watford as Honorary Life President.

Since 1997 the club has shared its ground, Vicarage Roadmarker, with Saracens Rugby Football Club.

Places of interest

Cassiobury Park

Cassiobury Parkmarker was formed from the grounds of Cassiobury Housemarker and consists of of open space. The house itself was demolished in 1927 and the original imposing gatehouse entrance ,the Cassiobury Gates in the 1970s due to road widening. In July 2007, the park won a Green Flag Award, which recognises the best green spaces in the country. It has a children's play area which includes a paddling pool, play equipment, mini train track for children's rides, bouncy castle, ice cream van and a kiosk where you can buy food and drinks. The Grand Union Canalmarker passes through the park.

The name derives from a Celtic tribe the Cassii said to have inhabited the area in pre-Roman times.

Watford Colosseum

The Watford Colosseum was used to record the Lord of the Rings, the Sound of Music, The Star Wars Trilogies, Sleepy Hollow soundtracks and is world renowned for its acoustic qualities, which are often said to be the best available in the UKmarker.Among many famous classical recordings made there is Julian Lloyd Webber's performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto, conducted by Yehudi Menuhin.

It has housed performances from world renowned performers as The Who, Robbie Williams, Oasis and was well-known for its Seventies Disco's featuring Jensen D Groover & Carlos Fandango up until 2003. It is now in administration after funding difficulties, but is still open to bookings whilst the local council decides its fate.

It is regularly used to host concerts by the BBC Concert Orchestra, in particular the long-running Friday Night is Music Night. Laura, Austin and Amy from the X-Factor have also performed there.

Watford Palace Theatre

Palace Theatre
The Watford Palace Theatremarker is the only producing theatre in Hertfordshiremarker. It presents a selection of comedy, drama, world premieres, family-friendly shows and an annual traditional pantomime. Situated just off the High Street, the Edwardian theatre building is approaching its centenary and has recently been refurbished.

The Pumphouse Theatre and Arts Centre

The Pump House Theatre and Arts Centre is based in an old pumping station situated in Watford's lower high street. The building was converted for use as a theatre, with rehearsal rooms, and meeting place for local arts based groups. Current facilities include a 124 seat theatre, rehearsal rooms, and live music venue. Community groups currently meeting at the Pump House include Dance House (children's ballet), Pump House Clog Morris (women's Morris dancing), Pump House Jazz (jazz club), Open House (live open mic music), Woodside Morris Men (men's Morris dancing) and youth and adult theatre groups.

"North of Watford"

The phrase "North of Watford" is used in a light-hearted, yet derogatory sense -typically by those living in the southeastern England- to describe any part of the United Kingdommarker situated more than a relatively short distance north of London and the Home Counties. It is a euphemism for 'provincial' and by extension 'unsophisticated'. It is commonly understood that the term is in fact highly arbitrary and flexible, applying to an approximate latitude rather than the town of Watford itself, but its use has contributed to a mildly negative association with the place name. However, in modern usage the term generally denotes the English Midlands and Northern England.

There are a few possible explanations:

  • The phrase may refer to the Northamptonshiremarker village of Watfordmarker, about further north, which was traditionally an important waypoint on the old east-west and north-south coaching routes. This was the point where the main north-south road, rail and canal routes came together at a gap in the hills known as Watford Gapmarker. The main north-south motorway, the M1, runs through Watford Gap and was the first stopping point for motorway services when the motorway was constructed. For many 'Southerners' and Londoners, 'the North' starts here, though it is technically in the southern East Midlands. Watford in Hertfordshire is much better known and so frequently mistaken, in the context of this phrase, for the same place.

  • Watford was one of the first places that horses were changed on the route to the north-west from London .

  • The explanation with the most evidence arises from Lady Capel's Wharf , just north of Watford on the Grand Junction Canalmarker. From the opening of the canal to commercial traffic in 1800 until 1845 duties payable to the Corporation of London on coal brought to Londonmarker by canal were levied at Lady Capel's Wharf.
The point at which the duty became payable was moved again by the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act 1861 .

From Parliamentary Papers for 1853-1853:

:Before the Select Committee on Coals (Metropolis), 28 April 1853, Sir John Shelley, in the chair.

:Mr. Charles Rogers, called in; and Examined.

::How is the London district designated or pointed out upon the canal?

::—By a stone which is fixed upon the banks of this canal at present, near King's Langleymarker; and which, previous to the last Coal Act [[[List of Acts of Parliament of the United Kingdom Parliament, 1840-1859#1845 (8 & 9 Vict.)|1845 (8 & 9 Vict.) c. 101]]], was fixed at Lady Capel's wharf, near Watford; and all coals passing south of that stone are designated as coming within the London district.

  • Watford is the first major town encountered when traveling north from London and therefore forms a well-known and obvious landmark to define a provincial town.

  • North Watfordmarker is a residential settlement north of the town centre.


Including areas outside Watford Borough:

Twin towns

Watford has five twin towns:

Notable people

Watford was the birthplace of:

Watford is the burial place of:

See also


  1. Mid Year Population Estimates Hertfordshire 2006, Office for National Statistics, August 2007, revised October 2007.
  2. 2001 Census, Key Statistics for Local Authorities, Office for National Statistics, 2003.
  3. Census 2001, Key Statistics for urban areas, Office for National Statistics.
  4. Sparrow Herne Trust Turnpike Marker, Lower High Street, Watford, Images of England, English Heritage National Monuments Record.
  5. Moving On – Applying for a Secondary or Upper School place, Hertfordshire County Council, 2007.
  6. Ofsted reports for these schools describe their intake.
  7. Ofsted reports for these schools discuss the effect on their intake.
  8. Hertfordshire: GCSE (and equivalent) results, Secondary School achievement and attainment tables 2007, Department for Children, Schools and Families.
  9. Admissions Update 2007, Agenda Item No. 4, Hertfordshire County Council Admissions Forum, 14 June 2007.
  10. They Shaped the Club", Watford F.C. History, 3 February 2008.
  11. Cassiobury Park, Green Flag Awards.
  12. Watford Colosseum, Watford Borough Council.
  13. The Pump House Theatre & Arts Centre
  14. discussion on London and North Western Railway Society - Mystery Photographs
  15. Twinning, Watford Borough Council, accessed October 12 2007.
  16. Oral history interview with C.J. Date by Thomas Haigh on the Computer History Museum website
  17. Roll of Honour, The Heritage Foundation.

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