A great summer of centenary celebrations in Watford
- Credit: Simon Jacobs
As the borough of Watford in Hertfordshire marks its centenary, we look at how the town has been shaped, where it's heading, and a summer of special events writes Louise McEvoy
Cheering crowds lining the streets with a huge procession to mark an historic event - not this summer's platinum jubilee celebrations for the Queen, but the scene 100 years ago in Watford.
The town with ‘a huge heart’ is this year celebrating an important milestone - a century since it was awarded borough status by the Queen's grandfather, George V. Handed to the town on October 18, 1922 after public consultation, the charter recognised the town’s importance as a centre for industry, business and as a home for a growing community.
Photographs from 'Charter Day' show crowds many deep for the arrival of the scroll in an open top car from the king. Then there is the pomp of the occasion, including a procession of mounted police, military with bands and guns, fire brigades, girl guides, scouts, schoolchildren, a stream of newfangled cars, and a life-size replica of Stephenson's Rocket pulled by horses.
A banquet, public meeting at The Palace theatre where the future of the town was imagined, and a firework display in a packed Cassiobury Park all followed.
Reflecting on those who celebrated that day, Watford’s directly elected mayor Peter Taylor says he hopes they would be proud of the place it has become and the continued focus on democratic decision making.
'The way we govern is very inclusive of our community. We make sure residents influence decisions that affect them as much as possible. We also work closely with local businesses, charities and organisations to ensure we grow in the best way for everyone in our area.’
Growing in size and stature from a small market town, originating from a 12th century settlement, the greatest and most rapid changes to Watford were laid a century before Charter Day.
The Grand Junction Canal (later the Grand Union Canal) encouraged the construction of breweries, paper mills and printworks, which in turn led to the manufacture of machinery needed for these industries, and from this grew other types of engineering.
The railway and its proximity to London also helped the town to boom and by the early 1900s, Watford was an established industrial centre. As people moved to the town for work, there was a rapid expansion in housing.
‘Watford has a proud history as a centre for printing and for brewing,’ Peter says. ‘Today, we are home to around 5,000 businesses from many different sectors, including hospitality and leisure, finance, the creative industries and much more. We have seen many businesses choose to move here because of our location and talented workforce, and our business parks, Clarendon Road and the town centre are home to a variety of businesses.’
There are a wide range of centenary celebrations planned through the summer and beyond, including exhibitions, a football match and heritage open day. ‘We’ve also got a number of competitions running for the centenary, including flag design, writing and photography competitions,’ says Peter. ‘I always love seeing what local people produce for our competitions and the creativity of presenting how they see Watford.
‘Looking back at photos of Charter Day, you can see how excited and proud Watford was to become a borough and I hope we can recreate that same community spirit during 2022.'
As well as the borough centenary, there are a number of other important birthdays being celebrated in Watford, including 100 years of Watford Football Club at Vicarage Road, 50 years of the Pump House Theatre and Art Centre, and 10 years of Watford Cycle Hub.
'So there will be lots of opportunities to get involved,' Peter says. 'I do hope people will join me, and other organisations across the town, in making this an amazing year for Watford.'
Bilqees Mauthoor, Watford Borough Council chairman, moved to the town from London in 2006 with her young family as she wanted to live in an area with green spaces and good schools.
‘I hope in the next 100 years we still maintain this town as friendly-family, and enjoy the open spaces and parks.' she says. 'No doubt there will be more houses, but I hope we build sustainable homes suited to families’ needs.
‘I see the town centre becoming more of a place to eat and drink, with different cultural entertainment, rather than a shopping centre, as our shopping habits are changing.'
Reflecting on his four-year term of office, Peter says he has loved being mayor: 'I have had the chance to meet lots of inspiring people and bring people together to make a real difference for our town. I never could have imagined that we would face a global pandemic, but the last two years have shown that Watford can overcome anything because of the amazing community spirit of our borough.
‘Watford is a town with a huge heart. It is somewhere with excellent schools and parks and a thriving town centre.
‘I hope in 100 years’ time, Watford still retains its community feel, with the forward-thinking ambition we are known for. The motto of our borough is ‘audentior’, which means to go boldly, so I hope that spirit remains and Watford continues to grow in a way that benefits every resident.’
100 people who made Watford
As part of the centenary celebrations, the community is invited to nominate people, past or present, who have helped shape Watford. Each month, successful nominations will be announced and added to a growing list up to 100. Here are just five of those already listed.
Amelia Florence Broad, Watford’s first female mayor
Elected to the local council in 1922, she and a Mrs Cox were its first female members and she paved the way for greater political and social representation of women.
Robert Stephenson, engineer
The renowned civil engineer and designer of locomotives, bridges and railways in the 19th century, Stephenson's first major commission was the London to Birmingham railway – a route that was to transform Watford. The Grade II listed Bushey Arches, built between 1834 and 1837, were engineered by Stephenson.
Margaret Maughan, paralympic gold medallist
An archer and bowls competitor, Margaret Maughan was Britain’s first gold medallist at a Paralympic Games, in Rome in 1960. She won four gold and two silver medals at the games.
Terry Scott, actor
A much-loved face on our screens for decades, Terry Scott's acting career spanned film, television and theatre. He starred in the Carry-on films, Terry and June, and was the voice of Penfold in Danger Mouse.
Adekite Fatuga-Dada, footballer
Signed up to Watford FC in 2008, when she was just 12, midfielder Adekite Fatuga-Dada has played for the club for more than half her life. She was awarded Watford FC PFA Community Champion for being an ambassador for and inspiration to the people of the town.
Centenary Charity Golf Day, July, location TBC
An annual charity fundraising golf day for local charities will be linked to the celebrations.
Big Centenary Beach, July 25 to August 7, Watford Town Centre
Getting into the swim of things with a 1920s-themed beach.
Big Centenary Screen, August 8 to 21, Watford parks and town centre
Look out for a 1920s-themed programme, with films set in the 1920s – or even made in that decade.
Watford FC Centenary Match, August 30
August 30, 1922 was the first time the stadium rang to the cheers of Watford supporters – ‘The Brewers’, as they were known then.
Watford FC Centenary Display, August, Watford Central Library
A display of the club’s history – all the highs and lows of following The Hornets.
West Herts Sports Club Centenary Celebrations, September 9 to 11, Park Avenue
Inter-club activities and events to engage the community in a family-fun weekend of music and activities.
Partners and Partnerships Day, September, location TBC
Celebrating the town’s partners, especially those already sharing a special birthday this year.
Heritage Open Day, September, venues across the town
A chance to see inside some of the town’s heritage buildings.
Centenary Day, October 18, Watford Town Hall
Celebrating with a ceremony including flag raising and lighting up the town.
Watford Timeline Exhibitions, October, both Watford libraries
Historic photographs of Watford from the 1920s.
Children’s artwork and Lego activities, October, North Watford Library
Children’s vision of Watford in the next 100 years.
100 Years of Watford Exhibition, September to October, Watford Museum
A specially-curated exhibition looking back to Charter Day 1922 and all the borough has achieved since.
For more information about the town's celebrations, visit watfordcentenary.com