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Why you should visit Watford in Hertfordshire

Snowfall on canal in Cassiobury Park Watford (c) Getty
Snowfall on canal in Cassiobury Park Watford (c) Getty

The thriving town of Watford is blessed with great places to shop, restaurants and green spaces, such as Cassiobury Park.

It also has the beloved football team, Watford FC which keeps drawing fans to the stadium in Vicarage Road year on year.

The name "Watford" is believed to have been coined from the Anglo-Saxon name for the ford.

According to Watford Museum ( The first documentary evidence for the name appears in the Oxhey Charter of 1007.

The first reference to the area was made in the Domesday book in 1086 where it refers to the Manor Of Cashio.

Agriculture was important to the prosperity of the area during the 11th Century and they had four corn-grinding mills.

The Abbot of St Albans was given permission to hold a weekly market and so Watford was begun as a settlement in the 12th century.

The site was chosen because it was on a slight rise above the ford over the river Colne.

Its popular market continued to be held until 1928 and the Abbot also arranged for the first church to be built adjacent to the market - which is St Mary's, the parish church of Watford.

Some period buildings remain to this day including the 17th century Monmouth House, the Free School, Frogmore House, Little Cassiobury, as well as some of the high street shops.

In the early 1800s the town saw rapid change due to The Grand Union Canal. It brought goods to the area which were not easily available before. There was further change in 1837 with the opening of the railway.

In the 18th century the traditional agricultural industries were supplemented by brewing and the preparation of raw silk, and printing had started on a small scale.

However, with the development of paper-making along the local rivers it led to the manufacture of the machinery needed to process it and this expanded into other types of engineering.

By the early 1900s Watford was an established industrial centre and there was a rapid expansion in housing as people moved to the town for work.

The look of Watford changed in the second half of the 19th century when most of the streets in the town centre were laid out and by 1900 the Earl of Essex had sold most of his farmland to the west and north east of the high street for house building.

It was in the 20th century, between the world wars, that the biggest employer was the railway. After World War II printing became the most important industry.

People continue to be attracted to move to the town for its commuter links and thriving community.

Great British Life: Cassiobury Park (c) Simon JacobsCassiobury Park (c) Simon Jacobs

Exploring the town

When Harry Potter fans think of the spellbinding films, they probably also think of the Warner Bros. Studio tours where visitors can learn about the making of Harry Potter, step on to sets, find out the magic behind special effects and see behind-the-scenes secrets of the films.

For a slice of nature Cassiobury Park is the place to go. Covering 250 acres, it is loved for it paddling pools in the summer, bandstand, miniature railway and various nature walks.

Cheslyn House and Gardens in Nascot Wood Road expands over three and a half acres of gardens and woodlands with dog-friendly paths, sculptures and an aviary and a pond. The gardens are designed by architect Henry Colbeck and his wife, Daisy, and they contain exotic plants collected while travelling the world.

Watford Palace Theatre has entertained the masses since 1908. It showcases plays, musicals, dance, and family shows and free outdoor festivals and, of course, pantomime.

Watford Museum holds a wealth of history and culture in its walls. Plans are afoot to relocate the museum and update the exhibitions so that in future it will be able to house even more thanks to a grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Take a visit to the oldest building in the Borough of Watford, St Mary’s Church on the high street. In 2013 Watford Borough Council was awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund towards restoring several historic tombs in the churchyard.

Great British Life: Watford town centre (c) Simon JacobsWatford town centre (c) Simon Jacobs

Eating and drinking

The Florist Bar and Restaurant Watford, Liverpool and Watford is an attractive dog friendly place selling brunch to die for plus sharing platters and classics like fish and chips and burgers.

There is lovely Italian fare at Pepe Rosso on the high street which prides itself on offering great food whether it is a business lunch or romantic dinner.

If you're in the mood for pizza head to L’artista Pizzeria which was established more than 15 years ago in the middle of the high street.

Cassio Lounge is on the corner of the high street and Market Street where you will find a family friendly venue with a big space filled with light and a range of food and drinks. The décor includes a wooden bar and panelling, deep red tiles and clouds of dangly tassel-y lampshades.

While in the town, why not explore Watford’s oldest pub, The One Crown Pub? It is housed in a Grade II listed timber framed building constructed in the 1500s, with further developments made in the 17th and 19th centuries. Original features such as the ceiling beams remain intact and integral to the buildings structure and character.

They have as craft beers, rotating real ales, premium lagers, a fine selection of wine, cocktails and spirits as well as a menu incorporating both traditional pub grub as well as more modern dishes.

Nana's Restaurant and Lounge lets Lebanese traditional cuisine shine and from daytime lunch to intimate dining - and belly dancy on Friday and Saturday - it is a vibrant place spend some quality time.

Great British Life: Watford High Street (c) Simon JacobsWatford High Street (c) Simon Jacobs

Shopping in the town

Atria Watford shopping centre, formerly known as intu Watford, is in the middle of Watford and has shops such as Accessorize, Clarks, H&M, Foot Locker, Flying Tiger Copenhagen, Levi’s, Kurt Geiger, Mango, Office, Pandora, River Island, Quiz and more.

Visitors and locals alike can easily shop local with the wonderful resource that is Watford Market. Offering both an indoor and out door market where traders sell a wide mix of goods including street food, shopping and services, hair and beauty, alterations, watch repairs, haberdashery, fishmonger and much more.

Good news is afoot for the town as news came this summer that Dunelm is set to open a store within the Atria Watford shopping centre in the 33,000 square foot former John Lewis unit.

On the high street there are shops such as Marks and Spencer, Primark, designer shop Flannels, Prince Menswear, B&M, Cotswold Outdoor, Sadie's Home Decor, Wenzel's the Bakers, Runners World, Wenzel's the Bakers, Situls Gifts and more.

There is also Waterfields Shopping Park which has stores such as Symths, Next, Boots, David's Bridal and Costa.

Great British Life: Anthony MatthewsAnthony Matthews

Case study

Anthony Matthews was born in Watford and continues to shout about the great things about the town through his role as community content editor for the Watford Observer. Here he details what he loves about the place.

“Although I’ve worked for the Watford Observer for more than 20 years, I haven’t lived in the area for most of that time - but it will always be my hometown.

I was born in Watford General Hospital, next door to Watford FC – it was inevitable which team I would support after that – and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to go from a fan on the terraces to covering hundreds of matches and much more in and around the club besides. If Watford will always be my hometown, Vicarage Road feels like my second home.

Like most towns, Watford has seen more than its share of change, but it still retains a strong sense of community. I’ve never regarded it as an extension of London suburbia, despite the way many people may perceive it.

The first reference to the area of Watford was made in the Domesday book of 1086, while it first became a settlement in the 12th century.

It was the early 1800s which saw the biggest period of change for the town. The Grand Union Canal brought goods not accessible before, but even more significant was the opening of the railway and new links to other areas of the country which encouraged new industry.

Watford had become an established industrial centre by the early 1900s and, as a result, there had been a rapid expansion in housing as people moved to the town for work.

Local government also had to change to meet the demands of a growing population and after the local Board of Health and the Urban District Council, Watford Borough Council took control of the town’s affairs in 1922.

There were changes in industry too. The railway had been the major employer between the wars, but after the Second World War printing became the most important. The service industries have now become the main employers with people continuing to be attracted to the town, with the M1 and M25 making it even more accessible.

Today Watford boasts excellent shopping and leisure facilities and also has 17 Green Flag Award winning parks to enjoy, the best known of which is Cassiobury Park.”


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