Walk 5: CARPENDERS PARK walk to WATFORD JUNCTION
1 1/2 hour
The train line opened in 1838 as part of a long-distance connection between London and Birmingham and this line runs in a straight line. Because of congestion issues, an additional set of tracks was built in 1879.
When the line was electrified, the suburban tracks were provided with a specific system that was compatible with the Underground power supply and this enables both trains and Underground carriages to use the line since 1915, but this lasted only until 1982 when the Bakerloo line introduced new carriages that apparently cannot be used north of Harrow & Wealdstone. It would be possible to reinstate the services relatively easily with a new generation of carriages but this won’t happen in the next few years..
When the Underground services were introduced, a new loop line was built linking Bushey station with Watford Junction station via an existing station on an other train line at Watford High Street. This loop line is the one now used by the Euston to Watford services and is the one I describe.
Routing note: This walk connects in Carpenders Park with Euston walk 4. As the present walk is quite short, you can combine it easily with walk 4 into one longer walk, but you should pay attention to the time you intend to spend in the two museums on the route and in the shopping malls of Watford.
You may wish to be aware that Watford High Street is still within London Transport zones (with a surcharge depending on your destination and time of travel because it is in zone 8) while Watford Junction is fully outside. But there is a London Transport bus accepting normal cards and passes from Watford Junction to Harrow, so that I found it sensible to give the full route.
A station opened nearby in the beginning of the 20th century in order to serve a golf course, but it has disappeared now that people travel by car to such pursuits and the present station was built in 1952. Because it is a late addition on an existing train embankment, it is just an island platform between the tracks.
Due to the embankment, the access is through a tunnel under the tracks but the solution chosen for the building is very unusual. Instead of just stairs leading to a small brick structure integrated into the platform awnings, the train company invested into a full size building in the yellow bricks that were the more affordable material in the 1950s. The building is crowned by an very elaborate skylight. In a nod to materials considered very elegant and noble at the time, the glass panes are held by thin aluminum bars and the shape is a half-round rather than a plain rectangle.
Exit the station on the E side (Gibbs Court)
Go to the main road
L Delta Gain until the road turns R
L on a public footpath marked initially as a cycle route
The footpath runs along the train line all the way and merges into Watford Heath (a small open space surrounded by houses)
Substantial brick cottages on one side of Watford Heath were originally part of school grounds. The school opened in the 1850s at the instigation of the local vicar and he suggested a daring novelty, namely offering courses in cookery to small groups of 12 pupils. To limit costs and teach useful things, the meals taught used simple, affordable ingredients. The local history society website has a delightful excerpt from the recipe for the signature dish of the school, sheep’s head: “the brains should be boiled, then chopped very fine, and laid on the head, here and there, in small lumps”. We (and our 12-year-old daughters) are apparently much more delicate than our ancestors…
Ahead along the open space
Ahead Oxhey Avenue
The road merges into Pinner Road, continue ahead
The station opened in the late 19th century once developments in Bushey and Oxhey justified it and was indeed called “Bushey & Oxhey”. The present name was given in 1974 to the disappointment of Oxhey residents who pointed out that the station is actually on the territory of Oxhey and much closer to the centre of Oxhey than to that of Bushey.
The station became notorious in 1980 because of two derailment incidents happening within six weeks in the station. In the second case, a train ran into a maintenance machine, probably because the train had not been rerouted to a free track. A crash happened also in 1996 when a slow train from the loop line drove into a fast train that had had to stop because of a signal but had been unable to stop before standing exactly on the junction. One passenger died. The driver, the train company and the maintenance operator all denied responsibility and no one was punished to anything.
The station building is quite large because this is technically a junction with the stopping trains taking the loop line and the long-distance trains taking the straight line to Watford Junction. The clock tower is a little reminiscent of much older Hatch End station, but the band of light-coloured stones interrupting the brick pattern is very Edwardian. As the train company had an important investment programme in the 1890s, I think this is a realistic date for the building.
Continue ahead in Pinner Road towards a big roundabout
L under two separate train lines
Ahead along the wood edge
R on the first paved footpath into the wood
The footpath soon reaches the river Colne.
From the riverside, you can see the impressive arches of the railway viaducts. The main line viaduct over the roundabout is listed.
Continue along the river all the way to the road bridge
This path crosses Oxhey Park. Rivers prone to flooding like the River Colne were the perfect locations for parks as building houses would not be advisable in such a location. The river is a minor water course here but played an important role further downstream, providing the valley for the Grand Union Canal and feeding artificial water courses used to supply grand estates such as Syon House with water.
R Wiggenhall Road
R Lammas Road passing under a train line
At the end L Watford Field Road
There was a minor scandal involving this green space when the Watford City Council agreed to have a developer build football changing rooms in a corner of the green space in exchange for being allowed to develop a site nearby. The residents protested against sacrificing a corner of the green space to the changing rooms and the council agreed that the developer could continue his commercial operations without delivering the building. The result is that the developer can save money, that the council will have to find an other place to build the changing rooms at taxpayer cost and that the residents are pleased about their corner of greenery. The core of the problem seems to be that the council did not bother enough about involving the residents in the decisions, something that is increasingly difficult to accept in a democracy fed by individual activism and easy internet communication.
When the road turns R to cross the open space, take the public footpath in front of you along a small children’s playground
The footpath passes a school, crosses a minor road and the train line cutting
R Exchange Road
Walk first past the station to the large brick building with the gate marked “museum”. The building housed originally a large brewery as this was the main industry in the town in the 18th century. The museum (closed in Sundays and Mondays) can take you between 20 minutes and 2 hours depending on how closely you want to be involved in the football club memorabilia. There is a collection of paintings and sculptures, an exhibition about the local manor house (Cassiobury) and a display of peculiar machinery.
Watford is also well known for having been a main centre for newspaper printing in the mid-20th century (thanks to its convenient location for distribution towards the Midlands and the Western counties) and the very good explanations about this particular technology have no equivalent in London. The room devoted to living in Watford in the 20th century is also possibly the best I have seen in this kind in local museums around London. Don’t miss the outrageous presents from the different twinned cities !
After visiting the museum, go back uphill to the station.
WATFORD HIGH STREET
The station opened in 1862 on a train line linking Watford Junction with Rickmansworth Church Street. The train company had to be rescued by a much larger one in 1881 and the train line itself closed in 1952 because competition from the Underground Metropolitan line was too heavy.
The new owner tried to improve profitability by adding services from Watford High Street to Croxley Green in 1912 and linked Watford High Street with Bushey in 1913. The Croxley Green line was abandoned over the years and is officially closed since 2001. The Bushey connection is the one used currently by the Euston to Watford trains.
It has been announced that a new junction will open sometime after 2018 linking Watford High Street with Croxley on the Underground Metropolitan line. Metropolitan line trains will then stop serving their existing Watford terminal and transfer to a new terminal at Watford Junction.
The station building looks like a small rest of what it probably was in the early 20th century. The windows are bricked in and it looks like a plain brick cube with a large awning used primarily as a terrace for a commercial venture. It remains to be seen whether the planned London Underground connections will justify making more out of the structure.
Continue uphill in the narrower road in front of you, this is High Street
At the corner with King Street, I noticed a few interesting details: an appetising sculpture of a giant fly stuck on a lamp post, the pretentious domed entrance to a rather indifferent shopping mall, and more interestingly the beautiful Art Déco front of the former King Street cinema; now a bingo hall. The emphasis is on vertical lines combined with horizontal decoration, the stylised waves at the top looking a bit maritime but very nice in dark blue on stark white.
Continue ahead through the pedestrianised section. I expected more from this shopping street considering that Watford has 75,000 residents and a large number of white-collar jobs (due to the easy motorway access). Shops looked very average to me in terms of quality of goods or originality of presentation. The two absolutely huge shopping malls are even less worth visiting as they have exactly the same assortment of chain stores you find in all other London shopping malls.
You reach soon the parish church of St Mary’s, a venerable gothic church. Most of the building dates back to the 15th century, but Watford was a minor farming community at the time and the architecture is rather modest. The appearance of the nave owes a lot to the 1871 renovation in the typical Victorian style. What is really interesting is a side chapel used as the memorial chapel for the Earls of Essex, who lived at nearby Cassiobury House.
There are several imposing monuments from the 16th and 17th century. I have chosen that of the founder of the chapel, shown in a reclining pose wearing the fashionable attire at the Elizabethan court (a ruff and beard). I don’t remember who the lady on the other monument was, but she could be his mother or wife as she is clad in the typical garments of a late 16th century widow, in particular the unusual headgear.
There is a nice shady area around the church where the city council has left a limited number of interesting memorials. There are even a few flower beds, among the few that you can see in Watford. You can get very detailed information about the monuments under following link http://www.ourwatfordhistory.org.uk/content/category/places/central-watford/st-marys-tombs
The nice building overlooking the former churchyard on one of my pictures is a former school built in 1704. I think the windows were replaced later on as the glass panels appear very large for the 18th century, but the central section with a pediment and a neo-classical door surround is typically Georgian.
Continue ahead under a road bridge
R Albert Road South
Ahead Albert Road North
Ahead Westland Road
R Station Road
The first station opened to serve Watford was a temporary structure opened in 1837 together with the train line a little further north. The present location was used from 1858 onwards in order to accomodate a new junction with a minor train line towards St. Albans. The junction towards Watford High Street (continuing at the time towards Rickmansworth as the loop line towards Bushey did not exist yet) opened in 1862. This junction is planned to serve both Bushey (on trains bound for Euston) or Croxley (on the Underground Metropolitan line) in a few years.
The station building was demolished in the 1980s and the access to the platforms is now through the ground floor of a boring office building.