Kingswood History – Second Millenium
Watford’s first written mention in records was in the year of 1007 and even as late as 1820 it consisted of only a single road, roughly where the present High Street runs, with a number of Courts or Alleys leading from it. The only thing of note to the immediate north was the road to St Albans. Kingswood of course did not exist at this time although an estate bearing this name did appear at a fairly early date. It was most likely situated to the south of the present Sheepcote Lane, covering all of the area out to Leavesden and with an access from the lane.
In June of this year the first verifiable transactions took place concerning the area within which we live. John Henry James transferred the house and lands known as ‘Kingswood’ in the Hamlet of Leavesden, to the Reverend Lucas and Messrs. Ogle and Plummer.
The railway had arrived at Watford in 1837 and by the turn of the century the area up to Balmoral Road on both sides of St Albans Road was developed into what was called ‘ Watford New Town’. Little further development had taken place on the St Albans Road beyond this point, but one of the boundaries of our estate existed. It was named Sheepcot Lane, and it was just that; a lane.
September of this year saw the purchase of the area by the Seventh Day Adventist Union Limited for the sum of £16,200.
Watford By-pass (A41) was under construction and completed by 1929.
On the second of July a transaction to purchase the area took place between “The Vendors”, The Seventh Day Adventist Union Ltd. and “The Purchasers”, a group of three individuals; by professions, a Draper, Builders Manager and Solicitor. For a sum of £24,000 these worthies became the Beneficial Owners of” land described as:- All that capitol Mansion House called “Kingswood” situated in the Parish of Watford together with the outbuildings garden and shrubbery’s thereto. And also the pieces of land messuage or dwellinghouse held therewith. A total of 105 acres two roods and 15 perches: The reader may well wish to convert these dimensions to a metric format but whatever the result, much of this area was to become the ‘Kingswood we know and was then mainly farmland and orchards. The adjacent land contained a large house and estate called The`Stanboroughs` and a building, possibly the farm-house, called ‘Kingswood.’ This house was reached via a drive and “Gate House” from Sheepcot Lane. As near as can be judged this entrance had been close to the junction of the Lane and the current North Orbital. The house donated its name to the estate and one of its roads. An agents brochure was produced that suggested you could purchase a house on the new Kingswood Estate for much less than you would pay in rent. “A charmingly laid-out, artistically arranged development that can be easily, quickly and cheaply reached from any part of town.” Type A. and B. houses were offered with respective prices of £610 and £515. After a down payment of £30/£25 the weekly repayments amounted to 14 shillings and 11 pence or 12 shillings and 7 pence for the B type. That would be 75p and 63p respectively. Not much by present day standard but a fair proportion of the average weekly wage of the time. (Less than £3 a week).
The builders were The Hillingdon Estates Co. (Thus another road name.) And it was claimed that “at 300ft above sea level and on gravel soil, the development possessed residential and health advantages unchallenged by alternatives. Wide tree lined roads with houses well set back, made it the foremost estate in the district”‘ A show house was built in St Albans Road to tempt new owners. (on the corner across the roundabout from Asda; on the left side as you leave the Alley) and is still to be seen and admired. 181 and 183 North Approach were also show houses and had a front view across a very wide grass verge and a three lane road to green spaces and the back of the Hare public house in Leavesden High Road.
The first houses on the estate were those along Perivale Gardens, Moss Road, Kingswood Road and at either end of Briar Road. The first four shops were built at an early stage in the development. They were a Newsagents called Kents, (this name seems to have stuck despite many changes of owner), who had previously been conducting his business in a green wooden hut next to the main road, a butchers and a grocers (Douses), plus a wet and dry fish shop (Booths), where a Cod and a pennyworth of chips came wrapped in a piece of grease proof paper and a couple of pages of the News Chronicle. Two counters; one high and one low, served adults and children. The lower counter was only attended to when the high one was empty!! I make no comment. They each had their own Salt and Vinegar pots. An early resident told the writer that to reach the alley, known then as the cinder track that led down to the Dome, you had to cross land with a lot of Brambles and Ferns. A latent Bramble Close and Fern Way perhaps? The alley route must have been similar to today’s with the Cemetery in existence, but not the Playground.
Having bought the house of your choice then it must be furnished. A visit to Hitners would perhaps result in the purchase of twelve and a half yards of stair carpet for £31.1s.6d with the 14 felt treads another 7s.6d. An Oak dining room suite with four leather seated chairs would set you back another £5.7.6d, and so to bed with a double, sprung framed, internally sprung mattress and two pillows for the laid back sum of £2.12s.6d.
The Author’s thanks to J.H.Hill & Co. of Palace Chambers Clarendon Road. Watford, Telephone 2198. for the brochure detail reproduced above.
What of the then current drawbacks? The Developers and Mortgage Agents forbade the sale of ale, beer, wine or other intoxicating liquors from any part of the properties, and much worse, the private householder ‘will not keep any fowls, pigeons, rabbits or other livestock’.
King George V died.
This year saw the opening on January the l0th. of Kingsway School for five to ten year olds; 298 of them were under the wing of Mr. Burden the first headmaster. This figure rose to 436 by1939. Another opening of significance was that of The North Watford Library. In an era with virtually no television; reading, together with the radio and a visit to one of Watford’s seven cinemas, formed the major entertainments; of the sit¬ting down variety that is.
Before the start of WW2 hostilities the houses in Fern Way, Briar Road and virtually all those to the west of Greenwood drive were completed. With the threat of war apparently imminent, Anderson shelters were supplied to householders on the estate to ‘erect’. As this entailed digging a hole approximately eight by nine feet, and five feet deep, with the earth removed from the hole placed on top of the curved galvanised iron roof, ‘erect’ seems a peculiar adjective to use. If my memory serves me right, it was no mean task and help was provided for those that could not cope. War was declared on September 3rd. and the first air raid warning, via a siren mounted, on a pole on the corner of Hillingdon and Greenwood, sounded on the same day. Although it was a false alarm it nevertheless heralded five years of threat to life, limb and property and the departure of many of Kingswood’s finest to fight for their country. Some did not return to tell the story of their adventures! Gas masks were fitted and issued, always to be carried in their cardboard box with a string to pass over the shoulder. ‘The school had hooks installed under the desk seats to hang them. A blackout was enforced and woe betide anyone who left a chink in the curtains. A group of the local residents, latterly called Air Raid Precautions (ARP) patrolled the streets in their tin helmets to enforce the law and would call, “Put that light out”‘ and expect it to happen. Their Head Quarters were contained in a wooden hut in the garden of the house on the corner of Briar Road and Kingswood Road.
The majority of windows had brown sticky tape criss-crossed over them to prevent glass from flying inside and causing nasty injuries to the occupants following a nearby bomb.
A large static water tank was built and filled to the east of Greenwood Drive on land not yet built on in the Kingswood Road area. The idea was that incendiary bomb fires could be extinguished in the event that the water main had been damaged. Many households had a ‘stirrup pump’ with which to fight the fires. These devices stood in a bucket with a foot placed on a stirrup outside it. Hence their name. I doubt that the jets would have reached the roof so it was fortunate for the estate that incendiary devices were not dropped. Local volunteers carried out the function of Fire Watchers, walking the streets at night in addition to their day-time jobs. Rationing of food was in force before the end of the year and everyone had a ration card with coupons for items of foodstuffs.
On October the 11th. a high explosive bomb fell on number 37 Greenwood Drive. It killed the occupants, a man, a woman and a young girl; number 39 was also badly damaged. Another device fell in the garden of 28 Fern Way creating a large crater but damage was limited to broken windows. Other bombs, including an oil device fell in the woods behind the houses on the opposite side of Fern Way.
A resident reports that she and her neighbor rapidly placed their babies under their prams when strafed by a German fighter plane as they walked back from the Stanborough Clinic, and others removed bullets from the window frame and fascia boards in Briar Road.
Many residents had started to spend a good many nights in the very damp Anderson shelters buried in the garden or inthe indoor cage table ”Morrison” devices. If ‘traumatic stress’ was ever justified then these people were certainly subjected to it.
For a short period Leggats Way Boys shared the Kingsway school buildings following bomb damage at their school.
During the next four years we were being exhorted to ‘Dig for Victory’, ’Save water, electricity, gas and coal’. Contribute to ‘Wings for Victory’, ‘Navy Week’ and whatever of our fortune was left over there was always ‘War Savings stamps”. ‘Don’t be a squander bug’ was the call. The war effort was at risk if you put more than 4 inches of water in the bath’.
A Dav Nurserv was built in Briar Road to enable the mothers of babies and small children to be freed for War Work at local factories. These included De Havilland at Leavesden, Odhams (Fairfields), The Home Office Store in Sandown Road, S. G. Browns in Shakespeare Street and various other engineering plants along the Bypass such as Savage and Parsons. Much of the work was covered by the Official Secrets Act and could not be discussed. The posters told everyone that “Careless talk cost lives”, and it was suggested by cartoon that Hitler was hiding behind everyday objects waiting for the indiscreet word.
We are not sure of the exact date, but I am assured that it was a happening never to be forgotten when a lorry stopped outside a house in Greenwood drive and a government official asked the lady of the house, ‘How many people live here? `Only my baby son and I as my husband is in the army’, was the reply. ‘You will take this family of three from Kent in then! The husband is an engineer and will be working at Savage and Parsons.’ said the official. The family climbed out of the lorry and virtually took over and wrecked the house! Imagine that circumstance occurring today!
The war dragged on and Kingswood residents were subjected to all the shortages and restrictions that the rest of the country suffered. News first of defeats and withdrawals by our armies and then victories and advances were gleaned from the newspapers and wireless and those residents with absent family members in the armed forces looked forward to much censored letters and feared the notification of a family tragedy. So many stories, so easily forgotten.
The end of the war in Europe (VE day) in May and in The Far East (VJ day) in August and a slow return of the men folk from foreign fields with story’s to tell. Others returned unsung and secret heroes, some from the Far East with stories too dreadful to repeat!
Celebration street parties were held in most roads with dining room tables and chairs provided from every house; to seat, in some cases, a hundred people plus. Where the food came from no one can tell me, but come it did. The small screw top medicine bottles of prescription orange juice were so diluted that only the pale colour distinguished them from tap water. Coca Cola had not been invented in those days, or if it had then it had not reached rural Kingswood. The kids would attempt to cultivate local relatives in order to be invited to as many parties as possible.
The West Herts Post reported that no social events were to be held in schools with the exception of Kingsway, which had been identified as being in a ‘remote area’. In addition to teaching, the building was used for a ‘Youth Club’, Whist Drives, old-time and modern dancing and amateur dramatics, and for meetings of ‘The Kingswood Community Centre’. A ladies club named ‘The Woodlarks’ was also housed in the school and was very active for a number of years.
The remainder of the houses were built and it is claimed that if you know where to look you can see the difference’. The other four shops were also erected. They were, as memories, somewhat faded, recall, a greengrocers, a Co-op grocers, men’s and women’s hairdresser and a Radio and Electrical shop.
I am told that everybody that was able, rode a bicycle in those days and few if any cars were to be seen on the local roads. The milk came by horse and float and the greengrocer and baker were also ‘horse powered’. The residents would feed these animals with fruit and carrots and take a bucket and shovel ‘for the roses’, on their departure. They would also do their best to stop the horses from eating the privet hedges at the front of many a neat front gardens with their wrought iron gates. If these vendors, or the shops on North Approach could not supply the needs of the locals then it was:- Kids in the pushchair or pram and a walk down to Regents Street in North Watford, or even the High Street and Watford Open Market. A bus ride was 1d & 3d respectively. Walk down and ride back was the usual method. Money did not grow on trees in those days! The winter of this year was notable for its shortages of nearly everything, especially fuel. The latter not helped by one of the coldest win¬ters of the decade.
Record high temperatures in the summer and a drought. Nothing really changes!
Kingswood Baptist Church was dedicated on the 16th. June and the Revd. H.S.Timms took up the reins. The ministry had been transferred from across the road on the corner of Chapel Close. Leavesden. It is of interest that the land had been purchased before the war but for obvious reasons not built on. A local greengrocer by the name of Mr. Woodward grew soft fruit on it in the interim. This was the era of Polio outbreaks and Kingswood did not avoid its quota. 37 people from Watford lost their lives in the Harrow rail crash when the Perth-London express smashed into a stationary local train and almost immediately a London-Manchester express ploughed onto the wreckage. Kingswood was not without its share in this tragic loss either. In all an horrendous total of 112 people died in the disaster.
Our present Queen was crowned on June 3rd and parties were held in many streets. During the televised ceremony many people with black and white sets found they had more friends than they had thought. Every house did not contain a “box”; no wide screen Plasma sets in those days. Drawn curtains and good eyesight were required to view the somewhat less than HD picture on its 9 inch screen.
The Duke of Edinburgh opened part of what is the estates nearest recreation facility at Woodside.
The church hall was used to supplement a crowded Kingsway school. Post war ‘Baby Boom Boom’?
A Covenant was entered into with the County Council with the intention of safeguarding the remaining area of Woodside Playing Fields against a change of use. “without consent of the County Council”. A waste of paper as it was to turn out if you had the County Council that was current at the time!
‘The Police Station was built on the Leavesden side of the A405. and houses on the estate were selling for around £2,000. Your correspondent worked on the construction of the ‘station’ and can recall the icy blasts that blew across the wide open space that existed before the dual carriageway and all the houses were built.
Snow laid from New Years day until April causing all sorts of problems. In November the writer moved into Fern Way. He had to pay £3,800 for the privilege. A veritable fortune in those days.
Ellwood Gardens was created with road access only from Sheepcot Lane.
The swimming pool was opened at Kingsway School in June. The local parents had subscribed a shilling a week towards its installation and were justifiably proud of its completion.
As near as can be remembered this was the year that a pair of houses were demolished in Briar Road to make access into Appletree Walk from its other end. ‘Rat race’ was not a term in common usage at the time! The new estate was in its infancy and still contained the buildings once a part of Stanborough Park, including the Granose factory, the print works and the aptly named “Holy Row; properly named Stanborough Villas. The new roads were named after some of the indigenous flora, includ¬ing Aspen, Elder, Sycamore and Blackberry.
This year saw the opening of the estates new infants school buildings beyond the church and the old buildings became, for the first time, a junior school only.
Average house prices on the estate had now climbed to around £11,500. (Briar Road).
The Kingswood Residents Association was formed, originally to address a particular problem on the estate.
The last section of the M25 between Micklefield Green and Bricket Wood was opened in October by Margaret Thatcher and the Kingswood siege was over. For nearly two years the A405 had carried the link traffic between the two sections of M25 and made the estate a virtual no entry/exit area. The pollution and noise had blighted the lives of those residents on North Approach who had to contend with a constant stream of two way traffic, sometimes at a reported speed of 80 mph. and at others at virtual standstill due to gridlock.
The KRA held its first committee meeting in January and ‘The Constitution’ was presented at the first AGM where a total of around 90 local people attended and elected the first Chairwoman, ‘Pat Solomons’. Not as it turned out to be for the last time!
It was during this year that a development later to be know locally as the `Horror Dome’ came to the notice of the residents. The area of the Woodside Playing Fields then partly covered by a golf driving range was to be used for a `Multi million pound entertainment complex including an ice rink and six screen cinema`. This was the beginning of an eight year objection fight with the Councils that at times were described by them as `strong and unexpected vigorous’. Local action groups included NORAG, NAAG and The Kingswood Residents Association, all made efforts to modify or have rejected the various plans put forward. `Gallop` were commissioned to carry out a poll and the last action was at a `Department of the Environment Enquiry’ in 1991 which ignored most of what the local people thought relevant and agreed the Councils plans. The Covenant of 1958 as mentioned earlier turned out to have been a waste of time and paper. In October, south east England was hit by “The Great Storm”. Fences, Aerials and trees were blown down on the estate and some householders suffered damage to their gutters and roofs. A night to remember. It will also be remembered for the complete failure of the meteorological agencies to forecast the event. ‘Mr. Fish’ has not been allowed to forget it.
A house could change hands at about £120,000 at the height of the price boom. That was until August when ‘the wheels came off the market and many recent buyers found themselves in a position of severe negative equity. Robert Maxwell decided to save ‘Printing’ in Watford and closed Odhams in the process! Although some personnel transferred to Sun Printers in West Watford, local residents had lost an opportunity of employment that had been considered ‘safe’ for most of the previous 50 years.
The now named “Nursery School” in Briar Road celebrated 50 years of service to hard pressed parents.
Rolls-Royce at Leavesden closed and removed from the area yet another site that had provided employment for many local residents since the beginning of WW2.
This year saw the first addition of a Computer produced KRA, Newsletter of eight pages. With steady improvements in presentation along the way, it is still eight pages! Previously the Newsletter was put to bed on the kitchen table with a razor blade and lots of Cow Gum to facilitate the ‘Cut & Paste’.
Following major roadwork’s and the removal of hundreds of lorry loads of contaminating in-fill from the site in the previous year, the thankfully much modified Woodside entertainment complex was opened. In truth the site turned out to be reasonably unobtrusive and is mainly only noticed by residents on and opposite the access routes to the area. The at times considerable increase in traffic levels, an amount of rowdy groups at night, car vandalism, damage to garden walls, and a constant selection of food wrappers and cans of various types in the roads and front gardens is the off site evidence of it and other lo¬cal food and drink outlets existence.
The latest battle to prevent ‘ Woodside’ from opening another restaurant on an already well filled site was in progress. This is the latest attempts to change the conditions that were finally agreed during the earlier negotiations. The KRA is once again in the front line with its well presented objections. This item, along with many others, was discussed at the AGM in March attended by circa. 40 members.
The prices of houses are approaching the levels experienced during the boom in the eighties.
My brief was to write the history of the estate, but I seem to have recorded more of the peoples memories and outside influences on their lives. I suppose any estate is more influenced by its residents and their experiences than the actual bricks and mortar from which it was constructed.
The changes are clear to see from my general research and day to day observations. Bicycles are now mainly to be seen either ridden on the pavement or lying around outside the shop entrances, apparently abandoned and very little used for serious transport.
Horses appear only very rarely, pulling a Totters cart. Cars and vans on the other hand are everywhere, parked at, or on, the pavement, or in what were once small front gardens.
No longer can we be described as living in ‘a remote area’. A walk along Sheepcot Lane, over the styles towards Abbots Langley is only possible in the memories of some of our eldest residents. Houses, roads and multi-screen cinema complexes have replaced the relatively rural scenery of the fifties and before.
Buses come virtually to our front door; no longer the need to stand in the cold of a shelter less bus stop on the ‘Orbital’.(Unless someone in a fit of terminal boredom has smashed all the glass again!) But now you pay pounds, not old pennies, for the privilege of going to the shops, or you take a Taxi! Unheard of when the estate was first built. Some houses have had new roof tiles fitted over a lining to their roofs. It always surprised the writer that for a few shillings more on the original cost, the lining could have been installed when the houses were built, thus saving the problem of emptying buckets of snow from the roof space when ‘the wind was in the wrong direction!’
Pehaps the now virtually complete lack of proper winters is one of the greatest changes to occur and natures answer to the problem. The other items to succumb to the advancing years are gutters and fascia boards. Not a lot of cast iron remains and the wood is long past its sell by date. Like most estates, the majority of windows have had the old wooden frames replaced with Aluminum or UPVC. containing double glazed units, and central heating is nearly standard. A frequent comment I received from the older residents was that the winter wind blew from Siberia across Leavesden.
Whilst being geographically unsound, this comment highlighted the problem of keeping warm with only an open coal fire, or low powered gas or electric heater. Many residents lived in the small back room for just this reason and only heated the front one when hot water was required for a bath. Not too many dividing walls between the front and back rooms have survived to date and the larger open space is only comfortable due to improved heating and conservation methods. Could the modern way of life survive when you were only comfortable whilst in sight of a lighted fireplace or heater and ‘upstairs’ was akin to ‘Lapland’? Many of our houses have been modified. From the modest single storey extension to supplement a kitchen of inadequate dimensions, to ‘makeovers’ of such comprehensive extent as to make them almost unrecognizable from the original. Many of the trees that once lined the roads have succumbed to various demises and small replacements are not generally given much chance of reaching maturity.
The KRA. the prompters of this effort, although formed quite late historically in this story, have taken on board many of the estates problems and have helped to resolve a number of them. Not always to everybody’s satisfaction; but who could? Few complaints are offered reference the annual Christmas pensioners lunch, or for that matter the kids party or pantomime. Not many winners of the monthly draw have complained either. With the exception of those that have lost their tickets!!
Despite our various moans about worsening conditions of traffic and the state of the road and pavement surfaces, the houses that come up for sale are much sought after. We cannot be living in too much of a dump, can we?
With only a few months to go in the current Millennium the new fast food outlet has received outline planning permission, again against local opposition, and an area of grassland on the old aerodrome site is being covered in Tarmac to provide yet another road. With the introduction of a few “Dwelling Units” and a “Business Park” or two, we should consider ourselves lucky that they are not building houses and factories! How long into the new millennium one wonders will it take before grass becomes an endangered species. Not before, no doubt, it is found to be ‘dangerous to health’, and ‘Keep off the Grass’ takes on a whole new meaning.
What will the next thousand years bring to the area? I suspect that no one would believe that Kingswood could survive in its present state. What will the chronicler be reporting to his, hers or its, readers reference the previous millennium. And in what form will the report appear. Via implanted ‘Virtual Reality’ perhaps. If anyone would like to simulate a report as they think may be relevant for the year 3,000, I for one would be very interested. My thanks to all those persons that have helped me with their memories and documents. I hope some of them recognize their experiences.
Alan Orchard July 1999.
These are my interpretations of the events as I see them and I am not the spokesman for the KRA or anyone else. Please do not publish this effort in part or as a whole without permission.
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