'Grange Cottage' and 'Thoughts of Watford Heath' - Oxhey

Memories written by Leslie Smith 1909 - 2006

By kind permission of his daughter Virginia Barber

Grange Cottage
Drawn by Leslie Smith 1909 - 2006

In my very young days I remember Watford Heath as a green area with houses all around it and approached from Watford by a sandy lane.  There were no houses between the Heath and Heath Road; what is now Bucks Avenue was a cart track to Bucks Farm at the top.  The Bucks, Sherwoods, Wilcot and Talbot area was just fields.  Just below where No. 156 Pinner Road is now there was a stile ( now a flight of steps) to a footpath leading to Bushey, St James Churchyard.

On the Heath itself there was a pond at the corner opposite Oxhey Avenue and another one on the little triangular patch of land where the electric transformer stands.  The house between the bungalow and the footpath leading down beside the railway was occupied by a Mr Jefferies who owned the adjacent builders yard and who at one time was Mayor of Watford.  Between the footpath and Royal Oak Pub were four little cottages which were replaced by the present houses about 1920.  The cottage on the other side of the pub, No. 26 was built for the coachman of Oxhey Grange, while No. 27 (where I now live) for the Grange washerwoman. More of that later.

The next house, No. 28 was originally a one-storeyed building for use as a sort of clubhouse for the employees of the Grange, subsequent occupants have gradually added to it.  Nos. 29 and 30 are almost the newest houses on the Heath, having replaced two little cottages in the mid – 1920’s and together with Pinehurst opposite the Load of Hay, were built of materials from the old Cassiobury Mansion when that was pulled down.  No. 29 has had considerable alterations made since it was built.  No. 20 too has had extensive alterations since the present occupant came in the early 1950’s.

No. 34 was our local shop and sold groceries, sweets, cigarettes, etc,etc.  it was called the Rose Tea Garden because it also sold teas in either the small hall attached to the house or in the garden and they catered for club outings, especially the cycling clubs.  The hedges on each side of the garden had topiary work on them.  On one side was cut two – foot high letters T E A S and on the other side a teapot, a cup and saucer, a milk jug and a sugar bowl.  These were always kept neat and tidy by Nelson Baker, the occupant of the premises and a gardener at the Grange.  When old Mr and Mrs Baker died the house was taken over by their son, Roy and he completely gutted the inside and rebuilt it, taking ten years to do it and it became a very beautiful home.

On the north side of the heath there are four terraced cottages (Nos. 1-4) with a detached cottage (No.5) behind them.  The main school was No.4 but No. 3 was also used.  The cookery school was at No.5.

On the opposite corner was Watford Heath Farm.  The small farmhouse, which was next to where No. 172 Pinner Road is now and where one of the blocks of flats stands, is reputed to have been built by gypsies because there was no upper storey which was the gypsy method of building.  On the corner was the road leading in with a five barred gate giving access, while just inside was a barn.  On the grass verge where the telephone box is, there was a water trough for the use of passing horses.  The main traffic down the narrow, tree-lined country Oxhey Lane was horse-drawn vehicles or sheep or cattle going to market.

At one time all the houses on the eastern half of the heath were owned by and rented from the Hon. Doyle Penrose who lived at the Grange.  Every Christmas all the tenants received a sack of logs and a sack of coal from the landlord – no electric or gas fires in those days!

On the island where the bus shelter is there was a rather ornate pink marble drinking fountain with a brass cup attached to it by a chain and at the bottom a basin from which dogs could drink.  It was a memorial to Col. Eley who lived at the Grange before the Penroses.  Unfortunately the Watford Council took it way and destroyed it.

As already stated my house, No.27 was built for the Grange washerwoman; our deeds unfortunately do not say what year it was built but we think it must have been at least 200 years ago.  The washing was done in an outhouse at the back where there was a large copper and the water was pumped up from a well, which is still by the back door.  The ironing and airing were done in a building in the garden which is known as ‘The Barn’.  The large fireplace had a grill over the fire where the irons were heated and along the wall under the windows were hinged tables for the ironing.  When we came here the Barn was in a deplorable state having been used to store coal, logs, garden tools and all sorts of rubbish.  There was no proper floor, just bricks laid on the earth.  We had visions of all the things that could be done with it, so the first thing was to put in a cement floor.  Then a power line was brought over from the house, the ceiling was lined with polystyrene tiles and the walls boarded and papered.  The Barn has been used for a variety of purposes: various youth clubs, Boys’Brigade functions, during the war it was a school for very small children and the Bowls Club had their tea there every Saturday.  Now it is a workroom.

I have lived on the Heath since 1929 in three different houses: No.29 (before we were married) Nos. 26 and 27.  I am very happy here and I hope I shall be able to remain here for my last few years.

16th May 1997


This page was added on 06/07/2012.

Add your comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.

  • Does anyone remember a row of tiny cottages called the Goblins which were on the right just before you went on the bridge? They were there in the early 80’s.

    By Maggie Stephens (23/01/2021)
  • Can anyone remember the name of the dairy that occupied land which had an entrance in Pinner Road, extending the length of Heath Road, and backing on to Oxhey Avenue. The area can be identified by the newer properties that was built on the land, after the dairy closed. The Smith Brothers owned Heath Farm, and the Farm opposite to the entrance of Grimms Dyke golf course in Oxhey Lane, they commuted regularly by Pony & Trap between the two farms. The ponies like Brazier’s horses became accustomed to the army lorries which used Oxhey Lane from ‘Highfields’.

    By Arthur Hall (25/03/2014)
  • Interesting description. My great grandfather used to live at 24 Watford Heath around the turn of the century, which I believe was one of the ‘four little cottages’ the writer mentions in his article. I found a photo of Watford Heath around that time showing those cottages and the Royal Oak pub. My great grandfather, Nelson Sanders, was a painter and decorator in the area. As a young lad, I used to drink at the Royal Oak regularly (I lived in Oxhey Hall at that time) but had no idea that almost a century previously it might well have been my great grandfather’s local too.

    By Michael Tate (15/05/2013)
  • I used to meet the writer of the article every year when ‘open garden’ day was held around the Oxhey/Watford Heath area. Most of the houses on the heath were owned by the Eley family when the Grange was built in the 1870’s and later by the Penroses when they moved in, in 1908. Most were sold off at auction in 1932 when the Penroses sold up after both the Hon Josephine Penrose and J.D Penrose died. The Grange and estate was purchased by the developer for the St Meryl estate nearby and most of the houses were purchased privately. I used to visit the daughter of the proprietor of the Rose cottage tea rooms-she lived up on the Kingswood estate in North Watford and had some great memories of the area.

    By Neil Hamilton (06/07/2012)
  • What an amazing description of a memory about ‘Watford Heath’. I was pleased to read about Watford Heath Farm, as I have to date been unable to trace anyone who can remember it being on the corner opposite the bus stop, though I have a picture of the ‘Drinking Fountain’ mentioned, the remains of which were last seen in Wiggenhall Refuse Yard.

    By Arthur Hall (06/07/2012)