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Watford skyline
Watford skyline
Official logo of Watford
Coat of Arms of Watford Borough Council
Watford within Hertfordshire
Watford within Hertfordshire
Country United Kingdom
Constituent country England
Region East of England
County Hertfordshire
Borough Watford
UK Parliament constituency Watford
 • Type Elected Mayor & Cabinet
 • Borough 8.3 sq mi (21 km2)
233 ft (71 m)
 • Borough 90,301
 • Density 10,880/sq mi (4,201/km2)
 • Ethnicity
77.8% White British
7.7% Other White
11% South Asian
3.5% Black African
Time zone GMT
 • Summer (DST) UTC+1 (Summer Time (British))
Postcode area
Area code(s) 01923 & 020

Watford is a town and borough in Hertfordshire, England, situated 17 miles (27 km) northwest of central London and inside the circumference of the M25 motorway. It is not to be confused with Watford, Northamptonshire which is 55 miles to the north.

The town developed on the River Colne on land belonging to St Albans Abbey until the 16th century. During the 12th century a charter was granted allowing a market and building St Mary's Church began. The town grew modestly, assisted by travellers passing through to Berkhamsted Castle and the royal palace at Kings Langley. A big house was built at Cassiobury in the 16th century. This was partly rebuilt in the 17th century and another substantial house was built nearby at The Grove. Connections with the Grand Junction Canal (from 1798) and the London and Birmingham Railway (from 1837) allowed the town to grow more rapidly, with paper-making mills, such as John Dickinson and Co. at Croxley, influencing the development of printing in the town which continues today. Two brewers Benskins and Sedgwicks flourished in the town until their closure in the late 20th century. Hertfordshire County Council designates Watford, along with Stevenage, to be its major sub-regional centre. Several head offices of national companies and multi-nationals are based in Watford. Both the 2006 World Golf Championship and the 2013 Bilderberg Conference took place at The Grove hotel.

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 90,301 inhabitants at the time of the 2011 census. The borough is separated from Greater London to the south by the urbanised parish of Watford Rural in the Three Rivers District. The Watford subdivision of the Greater London Urban Area, which includes much of the neighbouring districts, had a total population of 120,960 in the 2001 census. Watford Borough Council is the local authority, with a directly elected mayor as head. The Mayor of Watford is one of only 18 directly elected mayors in England; Dorothy Thornhill has been the mayor since the directly elected system was set up in May 2002, and is both the first Liberal Democrat and first female directly elected mayor in the United Kingdom. Watford elects one Member of Parliament (MP) for the Watford constituency. Prior to the establishment of this constituency in 1885 the area was part of the three-seat constituency of Hertfordshire.



There is evidence of some limited prehistoric occupation around the Watford area, with a few Celtic and Roman finds, though there is no evidence of a settlement until much later. Watford stands on a low hill near the point at which the River Colne was forded by travellers along an ancient trackway from the south east (the London area) to the north west (the Midlands) – heading for the Gade valley and thence up the Bulbourne valley to a low and easily traversed section of the Chiltern Hills near Tring. Watford's High Street follows the line of this route on the northern side of the ford. The town was located on the first dry ground above the marshy edges of the River Colne. The name Watford may have arisen from the Old English for "waet" (full of water – the area was marshy), or "wath" (hunting), and ford. St Albans Abbey claimed rights to the manor of Cashio (then called "Albanestou"), which included Watford, dating from a grant by King Offa in AD 793.

Early history

Cassiobury Park by Kip and Knyff
The Cassiobury Estate, as it appeared in 1707

The name Watford is first mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 1007, where "Watforda" is one of the places marking the boundary of "Oxanhaege"; this is believed to refer to the ford . It is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, when this area was part of St Albans' Abbey's manor of cashio. In the 12th century the Abbey was granted a charter allowing it to hold a market here and the building of St Mary's Church began. 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. The town grew modestly, assisted by travellers passing through to Berkhamsted Castle and the royal palace at Kings Langley. A big house was built at Cassiobury in the 16th century. This was partly rebuilt in the 17th century and another substantial house was built nearby at The Grove. The houses were 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.

In 1778, Daniel Defoe described Watford as a "Genteel market town, very long, having but one street".

Industrial Revolution

Roscoe L&BR(1839) p073 - Viaduct over the River Colne near Watford
The new London & Birmingham Railway line into Watford (illustrated in 1839)
Watford, The old railway station house - - 981561
Watford's original 1837 railway station on St Albans Road

Watford remained an agricultural community with some cottage industry for many centuries. The Industrial Revolution brought the Grand Junction Canal (now Grand Union Canal) from 1798 and the London and Birmingham Railway from 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.

Watford's original railway station opened in 1837 on the west side of St Albans Road, a small, single-storey red-brick building. It closed in 1858 when it was replaced by a new, larger station at Watford Junction approximately 200 metres (220 yd) further south-east. The old station house still stands today; it is a Grade-II-listed building and is now occupied by a second-hand car dealership. Watford Junction railway station is situated to the north of the town centre.

These developments gave the town excellent communications and stimulated its industrial growth during the 19th and 20th 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 manufactured the Croxley brand of fine quality paper. There had been brewing in Watford from the 17th century and, by the 19th century, two industrial scale brewers Benskins and Sedgwicks were located in the town. The parish church of St Mary's was extensively restored in 1871. The town expanded slightly during this time. In 1851 a new street off the High Street was opened, King Street, followed by Queens Road and Clarendon Road in the early 1860s. During this time, Watford had a population of around 6,500 The railways also continued to expand from Watford during this period; the Watford and Rickmansworth Railway opened in 1862 as a short branch line via Watford High Street to Rickmansworth (Church Street), and another branch was added to Croxley Green in 1912. The original plan was to extend the Rickmansworth line south connecting Watford to Uxbridge; this scheme failed and both the Rickmansworth and Croxley branches eventually closed.

By 1891 the population of the town had risen to 17,063 and it had become very cramped. Local landowners sold land for the development of the town and it was bought up by commercial interests. Various factories and other works sprung up in Watford, mostly breweries and prints, but also engineering works, a steam laundry, a cold storage company and a cocoa processing plant. The town expanded rapidly, most of the new inhabitants moving in from London

20th century

Watford station (Metropolitan Line) - - 1506771
Watford Met station (pictured in 1977)
Odhams Press Hall Watford
Odhams Press printworks (1954) at the Dome Roundabout

At the start of the 20th century the town was growing fast. New roads were laid out in Callowland (North Watford) and in West Watford, on what had been until then farmland. However, a lot of people still lived in the older camped and unsanitary houses in the yards and alley-ways opening off the High Street. Some of these people were among those who rioted in 1902 when celebrations for the King's coronation were postponed. The Council had a programme of slum clearance and was building council houses when the outbreak of war in 1914 brought this to a halt. This work resumed after the war and in the 1920s the Harebreaks estate was developed.

By the 1920s, printing had become the biggest industry in Watford. The biggest printers in the town were Sun Printers Ltd and Odhams Press. Watford was the biggest printing centre in the world and many advances in printing were made in Watford. During World War II the prints were taken over by the government who used them to print propaganda.

In 1925, the Metropolitan Railway Company built a branch to Watford, opening a station close to Cassiobury Park. The company had long held an ambition to extend this route into the town centre and unveiled proposals to drive a tunnel under the park to the High Street. In 1927 it purchased the Empress Tea Rooms at 44 High Street with the intention of converting it into a Metropolitan station. The plans were opposed by local councillors and the scheme was not realised and Watford tube station remained as the branch terminus of the London Underground.

After the war, the printing industry began going into decline. Union activity was common in Watford and advances in technology meant much of the industry became obsolete. Odhams Press closed down in 1968 and The Sun moved out of Watford during the 1980s after market reforms allowed it to do so.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Watford was the home of the British designer furniture manufacturer Hille. At their premises on St Albans Road, designed by the modernist architect Ernő Goldfinger, the designer Robin Day conceived the polypropylene stacking chair, now recognised as a classic of modern design. Although Hille left the area in 1983, the listed Goldfinger building still stands on St Albans Road.

The de Havilland factory 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 lies on the edge of the Chiltern Hills 14 miles to the north west of London It is located on rising ground to the north of the River Colne and east of the River Gade, which have a confluence to the south west of the town. The 'ford' which gives it its name was where an ancient major route from London to the north west crossed the River Colne. Originally the settlement was of the street type close to this crossing place. The commercial centre of Watford has moved north over the centuries on to dryer ground and closer to the principal main line railway station of Watford Junction. Nineteenth century railway building made it part of the London commuter belt. Twentieth century road building has placed it close to the junction of the M1 and M25 motorways giving it a central location in the UK motorway network.


Daffodils, Cassiobury Park, Watford
Daffodils in Cassiobury Park

There are 43 public parks, gardens, recreation grounds and allotments in Watford. Of these, eight have been awarded a Green Flag, in recognition of their quality.

Cassiobury Park

The name Cassiobury has had various spellings over time. It is derived from 'Caegshoe', which is believed to be the combination of 'caeg', a person's name, and 'hoe', meaning a spur of land. When the land was granted to Sir Richard Morrison in the 16th century, it was called 'Cayshobury', with 'bury' indicating a manor.

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 1970, due to road widening. In July 2007, the park won a Green Flag Award, which recognises the best green spaces in the country. There is a children's play area, which includes a paddling pool, play equipment, a bouncy castle, an ice cream van, a kiosk where one may buy food, and 10.25" gauge miniature railway. The Grand Union Canal passes through the park.

Cheslyn House and Gardens

Cheslyn Gardens
Cheslyn Gardens

Awarded Green Flag status since 2009, Cheslyn has been open to the public since 1965 as a formal gardens and house. The 3.5 acre gardens comprise a formal open area to the front and a semi-natural woodland area to the rear. Henry and Daisy Colbeck originally owned the house and gardens. Mr Colbeck was a renowned local architect, and designed Cheslyn House; he and his wife created the original gardens. The Colbecks travelled extensively, and this is reflected in the range of unusual and exotic plants in the gardens. Since the space has been open to the public it has been further developed, with new features added such as the pond, rock garden, large herbaceous borders and aviary.

Woodside Park

Awarded Green Flag status since 2011, Woodside Playing Fields cover approximately 59 acres of playing fields, sports facilities and woodland. The site comprises a range of sports facilities including an eight lane synthetic track and stadium, an indoor bowls green, cricket squares, football pitches and Woodside Leisure Centre. Woodside Stadium is home to Watford Harriers Athletics Club and hosts national level events such as the British Milers Club Grand Prix. The wider parkland includes two children's play areas and Albans Wood is a local nature reserve.


Watford Colosseum

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Watford Town Hall (to which the Colosseum is annexed)

Watford Colosseum was built in 1938 as the Watford Town Hall Assembly Rooms to the design of architect Charles Cowles-Voysey and acoustician Hope Bagenal. It acquired a worldwide reputation for its fine acoustics, and throughout the second half of the twentieth century the hall was used for concerts and recordings by leading orchestras and musicians. Rising costs and falling attendance led the council to close the hall in 1994, reopening it in 1995 as the Colosseum in a joint management agreement with a commercial company who had previously operated at the Town and Country Club in London. After the management company collapsed in 2004, the hall was managed by Watford Council until April 2010, when it closed to undergo a £5.5 million refurbishment; reopening in August 2011 with new management.

Concert life at the hall collapsed with the management change in 1994 but was revived two years later by the Classic Concerts Trust. The trust presented regular concerts by the English Classical Players until the end of 2009. The Watford Colosseum was used to record various film soundtracks, including The Lord of the Rings, The Sound of Music, and Sleepy Hollow; and among classical recordings, Julian Lloyd Webber's performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto, conducted by Yehudi Menuhin. It is regularly used to host concerts by the BBC Concert Orchestra, including Friday Night is Music Night, and has housed performances by performers including The Who, Robbie Williams, and Oasis. On Thursday 8 January 2015, Watford Colosseum hosted BBC Question Time.

The acoustics were analysed by an acoustics company in 2009, who reported that the size and "shoebox" shape of the hall, the flat floor, and the materials used in construction, allow for pleasant reverberation and good sound quality and clarity, such to make the hall among the best in Europe.

Watford Palace Theatre

Watford Palace Theatre
Watford Palace Theatre opened in 1908

The Watford Palace Theatre is the only producing theatre in Hertfordshire. It presents world premières, dance, family shows and an annual traditional pantomime. Situated just off the High Street, the Edwardian building was opened in 1908 and the 600-seat theatre underwent a refurbishment in 2004. It houses its own rehearsal room, wardrobe, cafe, and bar. The Palace also shows films and 'live' and 'as live' streams of opera and ballet during its theatre season.

The Pump House

The Pump House Theatre and Arts Centre is based in an old pumping station situated just off the 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 and also the Giggle Inn comedy club.


Watford Museum

Watford Museum, housed in a former brewery building on the Lower High Street, is home to a collection of fine art and sculpture which includes works by J. M. W. Turner, Sir Joshua Reynolds, William Blake and Jacob Epstein. The museum also hold special collections related to the Cassiobury Estate, Watford Football Club, and local heritage, as well as an archive collection of documents, printed ephemera, photographs and diaries related to Watford townsfolk, local government, nobility and businesses.

Leavesden Film Studios

The Making of Harry Potter 29-05-2012 (7528994480)
The Warner Bros. Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden

Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden is an 80-hectare film studio complex which has been used for a wide range of Hollywood film productions. Part of the site is open to the public and houses the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour, displaying costumes and sets from the Harry Potter films which were produced at Leavesden. The studio complex is to the north of the borough, around 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) from the town centre, and a special shuttle bus provides a connection from Watford Junction station to the studios.

Hertfordshire Fire Museum

The museum is based in a purpose built building at the Watford Fire Station, on the same street as Watford Museum. The Museum includes a wide range of vehicles, equipment, uniforms and archive material.


There are 92 nationally listed buildings in Watford. The two top-graded buildings are St Mary's Church—which dates to the 12th century—and Holy Rood Church which was designed by the acclaimed architect John Francis Bentley. There are ten conservation areas and one Grade II Listed Park and 240 locally listed buildings.


Watford is close to the orbital M25 and the M1 which links London to the Midlands and the North.


Watford Junction stn Overground signage
Watford Junction, northern terminus of London Overground

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. Oyster Cards are accepted on TfL routes 142 (towards Brent Cross) and 258 (towards Harrow) into London. Intalink Explorer and Hertfordshire SaverCard is accepted on all but the London Bus routes.


Central Watford is served by 3 railway stations and a Tube station. One of the principal National Rail north-south rail routes, the West Coast Main Line, passes through Watford. Trains on this line run from London Euston to the English Midlands, North-West England and Scotland, and some long-distance trains on this route serve Watford Junction. The station is mainly served by frequent suburban and regional trains operated by London Midland which run to Tring and Milton Keynes and the cross-London Southern service to Clapham Junction via Shepherd's Bush. Two all-stations services terminate at Watford Junction: the suburban metro service operated by London Overground which runs to Euston; and the London Midland shuttle train via the Abbey Line to St Albans Abbey.

The London Overground service from Watford Junction runs south via a suburban loop and stops at the closest station to Watford town centre, Watford High Street, before continuing via Bushey via the Watford DC Line to London Euston. Watford North railway station is the first stop on the northbound Abbey Line, serving the suburban area of North Watford.

In the west of the town, Watford Met is currently the terminus of the Watford branch of London Underground's Metropolitan line at the outer north-western boundary of the Tube system. The station is located outside the centre of Watford, close to Cassiobury Park.

Watford railways
Map of railways around Watford (2013)
Stations in Central Watford
Pic Station Services Notes
Watford Junction Railway Station - - 23584.jpg Watford Junction National Rail National Rail

London Overground London Overground

West Coast Mainline local & regional services

Abbey Line
Cross-London service to Clapham Junction
Watford DC Line

Watford High Street stn building.JPG Watford High Street London Overground London Overground Watford DC Line & Metropolitan Line from 2018
Watford North entrance.jpg Watford North National Rail National Rail Abbey Line
Garston National Rail National Rail Abbey Line
Watford Tube Station.JPG Watford tube station Metropolitan Line Metropolitan line Scheduled to close to passengers in 2018
Future stations
Watford Vicarage Road tube station Metropolitan Line Metropolitan line Set to open in 2018
Cassiobridge tube station Metropolitan Line Metropolitan line Set to open in 2018


Hourly bus services connect Watford Junction station and the town centre to Heathrow Airport on weekdays, with a service once every two hours at weekends and on bank holidays. Regular bus services run between Watford and Luton, but not directly to Luton Airport. Direct train services run from Watford Junction Station to Birmingham 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 contains 2f flight squadron part of the air training core, 2f is the oldest running air cadet flights in the world.

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.

Transport schemes

Croxley rail link map
Map of the Croxley Rail Link scheme

A project is under way to extend the Tube into the town centre: the Croxley Rail Link will divert the Metropolitan line branch to Watford Junction by reinstating a stretch of disused railway, the Watford and Rickmansworth Railway which used to run trains to Croxley Green until it closed in 1996. The new route, expected to open in 2020, will provide two new Underground stations at Cassiobridge and Watford Vicarage Road and will share track with London Overground from Watford High Street to Watford Junction. As a result of the diversion of the line, Watford Met will close to passengers.

On 7 August 2014 Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced proposals to extend Crossrail into the Hertfordshire area. The £6 billion proposals are, in part, designed to ease congestion on Euston station and allow its redevelopment ahead of completion of HS2 between London and the West Midlands. The proposals would connect Watford Junction and other commuter stations such as Harrow and Wealdstone, Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted and Tring to Crossrail and the City and Canary Wharf via Old Oak Common in West London. It would therefore not be necessary to change at Euston to get to these areas. Proposals would in theory cut travel times from Watford Junction to Liverpool Street to just 37 minutes and from Watford Junction to Canary Wharf to just 43 minutes.

A scheme to introduce light rail to Watford was conceived in 2009 when it was proposed that the Abbey Line should be converted to tram-train operation and run by Hertfordshire County Council. The project was cancelled due to the complications and expense of transferring the line from National Rail to the county council.

In 2008 a proposal was made that Regional Eurostar services could run via Watford to Paris via Kensington Olympia. In 1999 the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and the Regions took the view that Watford was "well placed to become an integrated transport hub" and it recommended that "services from Watford to Paris should commence as soon as possible". The Regional Eurostar scheme eventually came to nothing and was put on hold indefinitely.


Grand Union Canal look east near Watford
The Grand Union Canal, seen from the Metropolitan line

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 flow through Watford.


Watford town centre and the surrounding area is relatively compact and the terrain is generally quite flat. Over 15 km of new cycle routes have been developed in the town since 2003 and a range of cycle maps are available locally. In Watford cycling to work makes up 2.2% of all journeys compared with 1.6% across the whole of Hertfordshire.

National Cycle Routes 6 and 61 run across the eastern and southern sides of the town, utilising the off-road Ebury Way and Abbey Way. There is a continuous cycle route through the north-south axis of the town centre, including the pedestrianised parts along The Parade and High Street. Cycle parking is provided at intermittent points in the town centre and at local centres in the wider town.

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