Early historyThere 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 where the River Colne could be ford (crossing), crossed on an ancient trackway from the southeast to the northwest. Watford's High Street follows the line of part of this route. 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 Liberty of St Albans, manor of Cashio (then called "Albanestou"), which included Watford, dating from a grant by King Offa in AD 793. 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". 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 House, Cassiobury in the 16th century. This was partly rebuilt in the 17th century and another substantial house was built nearby at The Grove, Watford, 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 Earl of Clarendon, Earls of Clarendon. In 1762, Sparrows Herne Turnpike Road was established across the Chilterns. The toll road approximately followed the route of the original A41 road. The location of a toll house can be seen at the bottom of Chalk Hill on the Watford side of Bushey Arches; 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 RevolutionWatford 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, Hertfordshire, Leavesden to the north of the town. Watford railway station (1837-1858), 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 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 Dealerships, 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 Stationery, 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 to , and another branch was added to in 1912. The original plan was to extend the Rickmansworth line south connecting Watford to Uxbridge Vine Street railway station, Uxbridge; this scheme failed and both the Rickmansworth and Croxley branches closed. Watford's population had risen to 17,063 by 1891 to 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 bean, cocoa processing plant. The town expanded rapidly, most of the new inhabitants moving in from London.
20th centuryAt 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 farmland. Many continued to live in the cramped 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 the celebration for Edward VII of the United Kingdom, King Edward VII's coronation was postponed. The Council had a programme of Slum clearance in the United Kingdom, slum clearance which stopped with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Building council houses 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. 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 1978 and The Sun moved out of Watford during the 1980s after market reforms allowed it to do so. In 1925, the Metropolitan Railway Company built a branch to Watford, opening a station close to Cassiobury Park. In the 1950s and 1960s, Watford was the home of the British designer furniture manufacturer Hille (furniture), Hille. At their premises on St Albans Road, designed by the modern architecture, modernist architect Ernő Goldfinger, the designer Robin Day (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. Mod (subculture), Mod culture found expression through clubs such as the Ace of Herts in the 1960s. The de Havilland factory at Leavesden was responsible for the manufacture of the de Havilland Mosquito, 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 (film series), ''Harry Potter'' films.
GeographyWatford developed on the River Colne in southern Hertfordshire, England, northwest of central London. Ethnicity is 61.9% white British, 2.3% Irish, 0.1% Gypsy or Irish traveller, 7.7% other white, 17.9% Asian/Asian British, 5.8% black or black British.
GovernanceWatford was created as an Urban district (Great Britain and Ireland), 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.2011 Census: Usual resident population and population density, local authorities in the United Kingdom
EconomyWatford is a major regional centre in the northern home counties. Hertfordshire County Council designates Watford and Stevenage to be its major sub-regional centres, heading its list of preferred sites for retail development. The High Street is the main focus of activity at night having a high concentration of the town's bars, clubs and restaurants. 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 owners of the shopping centre, Capital Shopping Centres, changed their name to Intu, resulting in The Harlequin changing name to "intu Watford" from May 2013. Carrying forward £4.5 billion of debt into 2020, the company was not able to survive the retail downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom, COVID-19 crisis, and went into administration (law), administration in June 2020. The council owns the site, and feels that as the shopping centre is very popular (it was one of top 20 places to shop in the UK in 2019), it will remain open and viable. The town contains the head offices of a number of national companies such as J D Wetherspoon, Camelot Group, Mothercare, Bathstore, and Caversham Finance (BrightHouse). Watford is also the UK base of various multi-nationals including Hilton Worldwide, Total S.A., Total Oil, TK Maxx, Costco, JJ Kavanagh and Sons, Vinci (construction), Vinci and Beko. Both the 2006 World Golf Championship and the 2013 Bilderberg Conference, took place at The Grove, Watford, The Grove hotel. The town was home to the Scammell Lorries factory from 1922 until 1988. The site is now a residential area. Tandon Motorcycles, founded by Devdutt Tandon, were manufactured in Colne Way from 1947 until 1959.Wilson, Steve ''British Motorcycles Since 1950 Volume 4'' (Patrick Stephens Limited 1991)
Cassiobury ParkThe 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 of open space. The house was demolished in 1927 and the Cassiobury Gates in 1970, for 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 GardensAwarded 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 ParkAwarded 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, a community centre, 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.
HeritageThere are 92 nationally listed buildings in Watford. These include St. Mary's Church, Watford, St Mary's Church, which dates to the 12th century, and Holy Rood Church, Watford, Holy Rood Church which dates to 1890. St Mary's is noted for its interior which was renovated in 1850 by the architect George Gilbert Scott and includes fine oak pews decorated in the Gothic Revival architecture, Gothic Revival style. It also contains the Essex Chapel, which served at the burial place of the nobility of the Cassiobury Estate, including the Earls of Essex. The chapel contains a number of large, ornate marble tombs and memorials dating from the 16th century and later, and was described by Nikolaus Pevsner, Pevsner as "the chief glory of Watford Church". The Roman Catholic Church, Holy Rood, is a much later structure. Built in 1890 by John Francis Bentley, the architect responsible for Westminster Cathedral in London, it is noted as a particularity fine example of Gothic Revival architecture. The ornate interior contains stained glass by the designer Nathaniel Westlake. There are ten Conservation area (United Kingdom), conservation areas in Watford; one Grade II Listed Park, and 240 locally-listed buildings.
Watford Palace TheatreThe Watford Palace Theatre opened in 1908 and is the only producing theatre in . It presents an annual traditional pantomime, world premières, dance and family shows. Situated just off the High Street, the Edwardian architecture, Edwardian 600-seat theatre underwent a refurbishment in 2004. The Palace houses its own rehearsal room, wardrobe, café and bar. It also shows films and 'live' and 'as live' streams of opera and ballet during its theatre season.
Pump HouseThe 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 dance, 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. In 2018, the venue hosted the inaugural Watford Short Film Festival alongside Watford Museum.
Watford ColosseumWatford Colosseum is an entertainment venue in the town. Established in 1938, as the Assembly Rooms for Watford Town Hall, the complex was extended in 2011 with improvements which included new meeting spaces, a new restaurant and new bar facilities. Performers at the venue have included the soprano Maria Callas in September 1954 and the tenor Luciano Pavarotti in June 1995. The Colosseum has been used to record various film soundtracks and is regularly used to host concerts by the BBC Concert Orchestra, including ''Friday Night is Music Night''. It has also housed performances by performers including The Who, Robbie Williams, and Oasis (band), Oasis. The Colosseum is also an important venue for boxing matches with heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury building on his reputation, shortly after turning professional, in 2009. The venue also has seen some important and highly popular plays taking place and it regularly holds events in support of charities. The 2020 Snooker Shoot Out professional snooker tournament was held at the Colosseum between 20 and 23 February 2020.
MuseumsWatford 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. The Hertfordshire Fire Museum is dedicated to the history of firefighting in the county. It is based in a purpose-built building at Watford Fire Station, on the same street as Watford Museum. The Museum includes a wide range of vehicles, equipment, uniforms and archive material. 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 (film series), ''Harry Potter'' films which were produced at Leavesden. The studio complex is to the north of the borough, around from the town centre, and a special shuttle bus provides a connection from Watford Junction station to the studios.
TransportWatford is northwest of central London. Post World War II road-building has resulted in Watford being close to several Interchange (road), motorway junctions on both the M1 motorway and the M25 motorway, M25 London Orbital Motorway. Watford is served by a number of different companies, including Arriva Shires & Essex, London Sovereign, Uno (bus company), Uno, Red Rose Travel, Carousel Buses, Carousel, Mullany's Buses, Redline Buses and Tiger Line (bus company)#Tiger Line, Tiger Line. Oyster Cards are accepted on TfL routes London Buses route 142, 142 (towards Brent Cross) and London Buses route 258, 258 (towards Harrow) into London. Intalink Explorer and Hertfordshire SaverCard is accepted on all but the London Bus routes. The hourly Green Line bus route 724 connects Watford Junction station and the town centre to London 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. Elstree Airfield is east of Watford. Several private charter companies and flying clubs are based there. Watford is the base for 2F (Watford) Squadron, Air Training Corps. Watford is served by three railway stations and a London Underground station. is on the West Coast Main Line with trains from to the The Midlands, England, Midlands, the North-West England, northwest and Scotland. The station is mainly served by frequent suburban and regional trains operated by West Midlands Trains which run to and Milton Keynes Central railway station, Milton Keynes and the cross-London Southern (train operating company), Southern service to via . Two all-stations services terminate at Watford Junction: the suburban service operated by London Overground which runs to Euston; and the Abbey Line shuttle service to . The London Overground service from Watford Junction runs south via a suburban loop and stops at , before continuing via to London Euston. Watford tube station is the terminus of the Watford branch of London Underground's Metropolitan line. The station is located outside the centre of Watford, close to Cassiobury Park. 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 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 Route 6, National Cycle Routes 6 and National Cycle Route 61, 61 run across the eastern and southern sides of the town, using 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. There is an expression, ''North of Watford'', meaning locations north of Greater London. Alternatively, ''North of Watford Junction'' was used with similar meaning referring to Watford Junction railway station's position as the last urban stop on the main railway line out of Euston. The phrase's original use pre-dates the M1 motorway Watford Gap services but current use may refer to either Watford or the Watford Gap services.
Abandoned schemesIn 2008 a proposal was made that Regional Eurostar services could run via Watford to Gare du Nord, Paris via Kensington Olympia. In 1999 the List of committees of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, 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. 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 2013 the Croxley Rail Link project was approved to extend the London Underground Metropolitan line to Watford Junction by reinstating a stretch of the former Watford and Rickmansworth Railway. As part of the scheme, Watford Metropolitan station would have closed to passengers and been replaced by new stations on the reopened route at and . The project did not go ahead due to funding problems. In August 2014, the transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin indicated that the government was actively evaluating the extension of Crossrail as far as , with potential Crossrail stops at , , , , , , and . This proposal was subsequently shelved in August 2016 due to "poor overall value for money to the taxpayer".
EducationThe earliest records of schooling in Watford are of a schoolmaster named George Redhead in 1595, and of a Free School receiving an annual donation of £10 in 1640. The school consisted of "a room over two houses belonging to the Church Estate, nearest the churchyard." In 1704, 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. In the mid-19th century, the recorded schools in Watford were Fuller's Free School, by now in a poor state, and the separate boys and girls National school (England and Wales), national schools of St Mary's in Church Street. All offered elementary education. The Free School closed in 1882, and its endowment contributed to founding the Watford Endowed Schools, which provided secondary education and charged fees. 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. The London Orphan Asylum, later Reed's School, was located near Watford Junction station between 1871 and 1940. The only independent secondary school in the borough is Stanborough School, Watford, Stanborough School, a day and boarding school operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There several independent schools nearby, including Purcell School, a specialist music school. All the state-funded primary schools in Watford are Mixed-sex education, 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. Although all state-funded secondary schools in are comprehensive school, 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), Three Rivers district and Bushey in Hertsmere district. Within this area, there are:Moving On – Applying for a Secondary or Upper School place
SportThe professional football team Watford FC competes in the EFL Championship in the 2020-21 EFL Championship, 2020-21 season. Watford reached the 1984 FA Cup Final, 1984 and 2019 FA Cup Final, 2019 FA Cup Finals, also finishing as league Division One (now the ) runners-up in 1982-83 in English football, 1983. They were relegated from Division One in 1988. In 1996, Watford was relegated from the new Division One (now the Football League Championship). Watford won the then Football League Second Division, Nationwide Division Two championship in 1998, then the following season (1998–99) reached the Premier League. The club was relegated the next season. After five years, Watford won the Football League Championship play-off final achieving promotion to the Premier League in 2006, this time beating Leeds United FC by three goals to nil. The club was relegated to the Football League Championship after a single season (FA Premier League 2006-07, 2006–2007) in the Premier League. It was promoted to the Premier League in 2015, after finishing second in the Championship. The singer-songwriter, Sir Elton John, is a keen, long-term supporter of Watford FC and a former club chairman. He still maintains his links with Watford as Honorary Life President. Between 1997 and 2013, the club shared its ground, Vicarage Road, with Saracens FC, Saracens Rugby Football Club. Other sports teams include a non-League football team, Sun Sports FC, which plays at The Sun Postal Sports & Social Club, the Watford Cheetahs, an American football team which played home games at Fullerians RFC between 2008 and 2012, Glen Rovers, who play both hurling and Gaelic Athletic Association, Gaelic football, and Watford Town Cricket Club.
Freedom of the BoroughThe following people and military units have received the Freedom of the City, Freedom of the Borough of Watford.
Individuals* George Villiers, 6th Earl of Clarendon, Rt Hon Lord Clarendon : 28 July 1924. * Dennis Herbert, 1st Baron Hemingford, Rt Hon Lord Hemingford : 22 March 1943. * Elton John, Sir Elton John : 6 October 1977. * Raphael Tuck, Sir Raphael Tuck: 15 November 1980. * Graham Taylor : 25 June 2001. * Luther Blissett: 10 March 2021.
Military Units* 1st East Anglian Regiment: 1959. * Royal Anglian Regiment: 1964.