Watford stands within the north-western edge of the M25 Motorway. Originally an important agricultural market town, it developed as a papermaking centre in the 18th-c and later expanded into printing. The town has an ancient brewing tradition indicated by the impressive 18th-c property of Benskin's Brewery, on Lower High Street, which is now the Watford Museum.

Grand Union Canal near Watford

Grand Union Canal © Roger Kidd (CC2)

Most of the surviving older buildings are grouped around the 13th-c parish church of St Mary. This dominant flint-faced chapel is long, broad and low, with a large square tower. The Victorian Roman Catholic church of Holy Rood, in Market Street, is constructed in the Gothic Revival style.

The town's long narrow High Street leads down to the River Colne. At one the end stands the early 18th-c Frogmore House with Roman Doric columns. A 16th-c half-timbered house with an overhanging upper story stands on the corner of Church Street. In Church Road is the Victorian Salter's Company Almshouses, comprising a long line of red-brick houses with a tower and a stepped gable.

Watford's modern town hall is built in the neo-Georgian style. Weekly markets are held on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

The Council run Cheslyn House, originally owned by the Colbeck family, boasts 3.5 acres of ornamental gardens, an aviary, water garden and extensive woodlands. Open to the public all year round.

Cassiobury Park to the west is a large open recreation space, covering part of an estate once belonging to the Earls of Essex. The park has a nature trail, paddling pools and a miniature railway and links up with Whippendell Woods at Chandler's Cross. Woodside Leisure Park to the north, offers cricket, football, athletics, an artificial ski slope, golf, roller skating, bowling, tennis and putting.

Peaceful walks can be found along the Grand Union Canal and the River Gade. Dug at the end of the 18th-c, the canal once linked the industrial workshops of the midlands to the ports of London. As the planned route cut through the Cassiobury estate, the Earl of Essex only permitted the canal to cross his land if an elaborate ornamental bridge was constructed. The resultant 'Grove Ornamental Bridge' (No 164) is now one of the most photographed landmarks in the town.

Far to the north-west lies Ashridge Park, an attractive wooded estate with a herd of red deer (National Trust). The estate's Gothic Ashridge House is not open to the public. Within the grounds is a monument to the Duke of Bridgwater (1736-1803), a pioneer of Britain's canal system. Nearby Ivinghoe Beacon, at 757 ft (233 m) above sea level, offers spectacular views and was lit during Elizabethan times to summon men-at-arms in the event of invasion.

The town of Watford should not be confused with the famous motorway services at Watford Gap, located in Northamptonshire several miles further up the M1. Its name is taken from a lesser known Northamptonshire village also called Watford. Noted as the UK's oldest motorway services, it is situated in a low pass through a limestone ridge, providing an easy route for several major north-south transport links. These include the A5 (Roman Watling Street), M1 motorway, Grand Union Canal and the West Coast Main Line Railway.

Map of Watford


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