—  Town and Borough  —
Borough of Watford

Coat of Arms of Watford Borough Council
Motto: Audentior[1]
Watford within Hertfordshire
Coordinates: 51°39′18″N 0°23′44.5″W / 51.655°N 0.395694°W / 51.655; -0.395694Coordinates: 51°39′18″N 0°23′44.5″W / 51.655°N 0.395694°W / 51.655; -0.395694
Country United Kingdom
Constituent country England
Region East of England
County Hertfordshire
Borough Watford
UK Parliament constituency Watford
 – Type Borough with Mayor & Cabinet
 – Mayor Dorothy Thornhill (Liberal Democrat)
 – MP Richard Harrington (Conservative)
 – Borough 21.5 km2 (8.3 sq mi)
Elevation 71 m (233 ft)
 – Borough 80,000
 – Density 3,721.5/km2 (9,638.6/sq mi)
 – Urban 121,000
 – Ethnicity[2] 83.0% White
9.2% South Asian
3.5% Black
2.5% Mixed Race
1.6% Chinese or other
Time zone GMT
 – Summer (DST) Summer Time (British) (UTC+1)
Postcode area WD
Area code(s) 01923
ONS code 26UK
Website www.watford.gov.uk

Watford Listeni/ˈwɒtfərd/ is a town and borough in Hertfordshire, England, situated 20 miles (32 km) northwest of central London and within the bounds of the M25 motorway. The borough is separated from Greater London to the south by the urbanised parish of Watford Rural in the Three Rivers District.

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. The borough had 79,726 inhabitants at the time of the 2001 Census.[3] The most recent official estimates put the population of Watford at 79,600 at mid-2006.[4]

The nearby areas of Croxley Green, Bushey, Rickmansworth, Chorleywood, Kings Langley, Abbots Langley, Carpenders Park and South Oxhey, located in Three Rivers and Hertsmere districts, also form part of the Watford postcode area. The Watford urban area, which includes much of the neighbouring districts, had a total population of 120,960 in the 2001 census,[5] making it the 47th largest urban area in England.




Watford stands on a low hill near the point at which the River Colne was forded by travellers between London and the Midlands. This route, originally a pre-Roman trackway, departed from the ancient Roman Watling Street at Stanmore, heading for the Gade valley and thence up the Bulbourne valley to a low and easily traversed section of the Chiltern Hills near Tring. The modern High Street follows the route of this road.[6][7]

The ford was close to the later site of a gas works site. 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 wæt (wet), wadan (wade), watul (wattle, a fence) or wath (hunter), Watling Street, and a hypothetical Saxon landowner called "Wata".[7]

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.[8]

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 Albans to the east and into the Chiltern Hills along the valley of the River Chess to the west. In 1100 Henry I granted a charter to Watford to hold a weekly market.[6]

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.[9]

The great houses of Cassiobury and The Grove 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.[8]

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.[10]

Industrial Revolution

Watford remained an agricultural community with some cottage industry for many centuries. The Industrial Revolution brought the Grand Junction Canal (now Grand Union Canal) 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 Hills. 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.[11]

These developments gave the town excellent communications and stimulated its industrial growth during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Grand Union Canal, allowed coal to be brought into the district and paved the way for industrial development. The Watford Gas and Coke Company was formed in 1834 and gas works built. The canal allowed paper-making mills to be sited at Croxley. The John Dickinson and Co. Mill beside the canal here manufactured the Croxley brand of fine quality paper. The paper making influenced the development of printing in the town which continues today. There had been brewing in Watford from the seventeenth century and, by the nineteenth century, two industrial scale brewers Benskin’s and Sedgwick’s were located in the town.[12]


Entrance to the Harlequin Shopping Centre

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 Stevenage to be its major sub-regional centres, heading its list of preferred sites for retail development.[13] The primary shopping area is the Harlequin Shopping Centre, 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, J D Wetherspoon, 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 Grove 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 town centre and the surrounding area is compact and the terrain is generally flat with more than 20 km of direct cycle routes avoiding busy roads. In Watford cycling to work makes up 2.26% of all journeys compared with 1.8% across the whole of Hertfordshire.[14]

National Cycle Route 6 and 61 run to the south and east of the town along the Ebury Way and the Colne Valley Cycle Route. A cycle track runs through the pedestrianised parts of the town centre along The Parade and the High Street. Sheffield Hoop cycle parking is provided at intermittent points all along the High Street and throughout the town centre


Watford is close to strategic roads – the M25 motorway that rings London and the M1 motorway that connects London to the Midlands and northern England.


Watford is served by buses which link it to the wider surrounding area. These are operated by a number of different companies, including Arriva Shires & Essex, Arriva London, Uno, Red Rose Travel, Carousel, Mullany's Buses, Redline Buses and Tiger Line. Although the town is in close proximity to London, the majority of buses do not accept TFL's Oyster Card as a valid method of payment; however PlusBus, Intalink Explorer and Hertfordshire SaverCard is accepted on all but the London Bus routes.


The town is served by one of the principal National Rail north-south rail routes – the West Coast Main Line – which connects London (terminus at London Euston) to the Midlands, north-west England and Scotland. Some long-distance trains on this route serve Watford Junction, where there are also frequent suburban and regional trains. There is a shuttle train service to St Albans, via some local stations in North Watford, and a direct rail connection to East Croydon via Clapham Junction. London Overground services run from Watford Junction along a suburban loop to Watford High Street station and Bushey station, continuing along the Watford DC Line to London Euston.

London Underground serves Watford 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 Park. If the proposed Croxley Rail Link goes ahead, the Metropolitan Line branch would be diverted to Watford Junction via the disused Croxley Green branch, providing two new Underground stations between Croxley and Watford Junction.[15]

It has been suggested that Regional Eurostar services could run from Watford to Paris via Kensington Olympia.[16][17] 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."[18]


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

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


Regular and frequent bus and coach services connect Watford Junction station to Heathrow Airport and Luton Airport. Direct train services run from Watford Junction Station to Birmingham International Airport and also used to run to Gatwick (since 2009 it is necessary to change train at Clapham Junction or London Euston and London Victoria Station).

Watford's closest airfield is Elstree Aerodrome, 3 miles (5 km) east of the town. Several private charter companies and flying clubs are based there.

The Rolls Royce or de Havilland factory as it was known in the Second World War at Leavesden was responsible for the manufacture of the Mosquito fighter bomber and the Halifax bomber and later became Leavesden Aerodrome, to the north of Watford. No longer operational, it was converted into Leavesden Film Studios, 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.[6] 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.[11]

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 Schools (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.[19] After these schools, now called the Watford Grammar School for Boys and the Watford Grammar School for Girls, 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.[20][21]

The London Orphan Asylum, later Reed's School, was located near Watford Junction station 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 Hertsmere.

Secondary schools

Although all state-funded secondary schools in Hertfordshire 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 Bushey in Hertsmere district. Within this area, there are:[22]

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.[22]

Results achieved by the schools at GCSE are also widely spread, including the three highest and the two lowest scoring state schools within Hertfordshire.[25][26] The area also has by far the highest incidence in the county of children allocated to schools to which they had not applied.[27]

Further Education

The Watford Campus of West Herts College is situated on Hempstead Road just north of the High Street. It is the only Grade 1 College in the United Kingdom according to a recent Ofsted report. (As of September 2011)

Higher Education

The Centre for Missional Leadership (CML) is the Watford campus of the London School of Theology and is located on The Parade. The London School of Theology is Europe's largest evangelical theological college.[28] The Centre for Missional Leadership teaches an applied theology course in Missional Leadership, equipping Christians to go into the secular workplace. The course is accredited by Middlesex University.


Watford v Coventry at Vicarage Road in May 2000

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 Division One (now the Premier 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 the Football League Championship).

Watford won the then Nationwide Division Two championship in 1998, then the following season (1998–99) reached the Premier League by winning the First Division Play-Off Final, beating Bolton Wanderers F.C. at Wembley Stadium 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 Premier League 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 Premier League.

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.[29]

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

Watford is also home to the Watford Cheetahs American Football team who play their home games at Fullerians R.F.C.

Places of interest

Cassiobury Park

Daffodils in Cassiobury Park.

Cassiobury Park was formed from the grounds of Cassiobury House and consists of 190 acres (0.77 km2) 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.[30] 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 Canal 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

Formerly known as the Watford Town Hall Assembly Rooms, Watford Colosseum is a hall of exceptional musical merit. In 2009 Classic Concerts Trust, which presented orchestral concerts there for many years, commissioned a report on the acoustics from Paul Scarbrough of the US firm Akustiks which can be downloaded from this link.

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century the hall was used for concerts and recordings by leading orchestras and artists. Failing finances led to closure by Watford Borough Council in 1994, after which a lease was acquired for private operation. Subsequent to this Classic Concerts Trust revived orchestral concerts with presentations by the English Classical Players and in successive years built a strong and loyal following for concerts there. From 2007 an innovative business model helped stimulate further growth in public support and audience growth.

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 UK. 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 Discos featuring Jensen D Groover & Carlos Fandango up until 2003.

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.

After the management company collapsed in 2004, the hall was managed by Watford Council until April 2010, when it closed to undergo a major refurbishment. Reopen August 2011 - https://watfordcolosseum.co.uk/online/default.asp with new management.

Watford Palace Theatre

The Watford Palace Theatre.

The Watford Palace Theatre is the only producing theatre in Hertfordshire. 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), child, youth and adult theatre groups.[31]

"North of Watford" and "Watford Gap"

The phrase "North of Watford" is used in a light-hearted, yet derogatory sense—typically by those living in south eastern England—to describe any part of the United Kingdom 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. See Bombay Hills for a similar cultural border concept in New Zealand.

The phrase is also linked to the Watford Gap, a motorway service station on the main north-south M1 motorway, which is located 50 miles north of the town.


Including areas outside Watford Borough:

Twin towns

Watford has five twin towns:[32]

Notable people

Watford was the birthplace of:

Watford is the burial place of:

See also

Thomas Rogers 1620 Mayflower Pilgrim . signed the Mayflower Compact.


  1. ^ Virgil. Aeneid. pp. VI, 95. "Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito. trans.: Yield thou not to adversity, but press on the more bravely." 
  2. ^ Area: Watford (Local Authority), Resident Population Estimates by Ethnic Group, All Persons, 2006, People and Society: Population and Migration, Office for National Statistics.
  3. ^ 2001 Census, Key Statistics for Local Authorities, Office for National Statistics, 2003.
  4. ^ Mid Year Population Estimates Hertfordshire 2006, Office for National Statistics, August 2007, revised October 2007.
  5. ^ Census 2001, Key Statistics for urban areas, Office for National Statistics.
  6. ^ a b c Samuel Lewis (ed.) (1848). "Watford (St. Mary)". A Topographical Dictionary of England (7th ed.). pp. 486. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=51382#s1. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  7. ^ a b W.R. Saunders (1931). History of Watford. Watford: Peacock. 
  8. ^ a b William Page (ed.) (1908). "Watford: Manors". A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2. Victoria County History. pp. 451–464. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=43308. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  9. ^ William Page (ed.) (1908). "Watford: Churches and Charities". A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2. Victoria County History. pp. 464–469. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=43309. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  10. ^ Sparrow Herne Trust Turnpike Marker, Lower High Street, Watford, Images of England, English Heritage National Monuments Record.
  11. ^ a b William Page (ed.) (1908). "Watford: Introduction". A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2. Victoria County History. pp. 446–451. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=43307. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  12. ^ "The History of Watford". Haberdashers Askes Boys School – Geography Department. 4 February 2008. http://www.habsboys.org.uk/Departments/Geography/Watford/history_of_watford.htm. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  13. ^ "Hertfordshire: an Economic Overview". Hertfordshire County Council. November 2004. http://www.hertsdirect.org/infobase/docs/pdfstore/econover.pdf. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  14. ^ Cycling in Watford leaflet, 2007
  15. ^ "Croxley Rail Link". Transport for London. Archived from the original on 2008-05-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20080515004605/http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/networkandservices/2053.aspx. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  16. ^ "Talks held at Parliament Regarding Regional Eurostar". http://www.publications.parliament.uk. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmhansrd/vo990519/debtext/90519-08.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  17. ^ "Regions 'cheated' over Eurostar". BBC. 1999-01-27. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/263836.stm. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  18. ^ "Regional Eurostar services: The Government's Response to the Memorandum of Inquiry by the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and the Regions". Department for Transport. 2006-01-30. http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/rail/legislation/rtsc/regionaleurostarservices. Retrieved 2008-09-21. [dead link]
  19. ^ W.R. Carter (1894). "Mrs. Fuller's Free School". Watford Endowed Schools Journal 3. 
  20. ^ R.E. Slinn (1957). A History of Elementary Education in Watford 1704–1903. University of London Institute of Education. 
  21. ^ J.B. and L.V. Nunn (2003). The Book of Watford: A portrait of our town (2nd ed.). 
  22. ^ a b Moving On – Applying for a Secondary or Upper School place, Hertfordshire County Council, 2007.
  23. ^ Ofsted reports for these schools describe their intake.
  24. ^ Ofsted reports for these schools discuss the effect on their intake.
  25. ^ Hertfordshire: GCSE (and equivalent) results, Secondary School achievement and attainment tables 2007, Department for Children, Schools and Families.
  26. ^ "Secondary schools in Hertfordshire: GCSE-level". BBC News. 2008-01-10. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/education/07/school_tables/secondary_schools/html/919_gcse_lea.stm. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  27. ^ Admissions Update 2007, Agenda Item No. 4, Hertfordshire County Council Admissions Forum, 14 June 2007.
  28. ^ Journal LST Insight Autumn 2009, p. 2.
  29. ^ They Shaped the Club", Watford F.C. History, 3 February 2008.
  30. ^ Cassiobury Park, Green Flag Awards.
  31. ^ The Pump House Theatre & Arts Centre
  32. ^ Twinning, Watford Borough Council, accessed October 12, 2007.
  33. ^ Oral history interview with C.J. Date by Thomas Haigh on the Computer History Museum website
  34. ^ Roll of Honour, The Heritage Foundation.
  35. ^ "Great Scott!". Chortle. 2003-05-09. http://www.chortle.co.uk/news/2003/05/09/2804/great_scott!. 

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