#122: Watford Junction – 21/07/2021

When I started planning for a ‘Return to The End Of The Line’ (my second book’s working title), I had decided not to return to stations previously visited. So I thought maybe I would re-use the material from ‘Memories from The End Of The Line’.

The more I thought about this, the more I realised how wrong this would be on several counts. As you know, my first book is on Transport for London’s (TfL) stations, and my second is on Network Rail stations. Also, in the false belief that I may have exhausted a location’s interest, a return enables me to look again from a different perspective and explore a little further maybe.

Finally, things change over time too, and I remind myself of that, so I believe there will always be new or previously undiscovered things to find.

My previous visits to Watford were on 18/06/2019 via Watford Junction (Overground Line) and on 20/08/2019 via Watford (Metropolitan Line). So why not check them out to remind you what I saw before?

Watford Junction Station 

Some commentators refer to Watford Junction as the gateway to the north as it serves several rail operating companies with regular and limited services at the station. Although my blogs and journeys focus predominantly on London’s commuter services by accessing stations using my 60+ travel card, I’d like to provide a rounded view of stations I visit. 

Southern Rail – part of the Govia Thameslink Rail franchise operating services from Milton Keynes through Watford Junction to London and the south coast.

London Northwestern Railway (LNR) – provide services from London through Watford Junction to Liverpool, Crewe, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Tring. There’s also a branch line from Watford Junction to St Albans (Abbey). LNR is part of the West Midlands Rail Executive franchise which operates services mainly in the West Midlands.

Avanti West Coast – provides high-speed services, with limited stops at Watford Junction to Birmingham, Crewe, Holyhead, Liverpool, Manchester, Blackpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

West Midlands Rail manages this station, although it can be very confusing to the untrained eye as there are staff from most rail franchises and TfL around and about. Services are regularised to one of the eleven platforms, but I can imagine that the station is flexible enough to direct trains onto different platforms when there are disruptions.

When I arrive at mainline stations, I will always head to the station reception to check-in and alert them of my presence. Often I’ll be issued a pass so that other station workers know I’m a bona fide visitor.

At the outlying stations, it’s not as easy, and this was the case at Watford Junction. There was no discernable reception, so I asked a platform guard who seemed unsure of the protocol. I explained the purpose of my enquiry, but he was distracted, no doubt concentrating on managing the next train’s arrival – albeit some 10 minutes away. So I chose discretion to avoid any conflict and left the station.

The station forecourt was revamped in 2020 from a disjointed, cluttered space into a safe, pedestrian-friendly area with a more open, multifunctional space and designed to create an improved gateway to the town centre and bring Watford into the 21st Century.

These large freestanding letters spelling out ‘WATFORD’ serve as seating areas and encourage visitors’ photos and related social media posts designed to raise the town’s profile in a positive and obvious way. 

Watford Town

Mindful not to retrace steps previously trodden, it can be a little difficult, although I do unearth some exciting finds around the back streets and quieter lanes. But I hadn’t expected to see tentacles oozing out of the Palace Theatre in Clarendon Road.

It was quite an entertaining and colourful feature, created by Imagine Watford and designed to get people talking and bring fun into the town. It certainly brought a smile to my face and others who looked up with me who may not have seen it before.

Further down High Street, there’s an unnamed alley through to Wellstones. Pretty indistinct, but used by shoppers to access the car park, judging by the number of people using it laden with full shopping bags. I was hopeful to capture this alleyway without any pedestrians passing through as it has a curious mix of old-world architecture and new.

But it was nigh impossible and quite funny catching people’s reactions as I crouched low to get an elevated shot. Some were almost ducking their bodies trying to avoid being captured or gesticulating, thereby spoiling the photo for me. On the other hand, some were happy to engage, and some were oblivious to my being there. This lady adds a perfect point of interest and provides a natural context to the moment by peeking into the shot.

Watford Free School – In 1704, Mrs Elizabeth Fuller of Watford Place built the school for 40 boys and 20 girls on her land next to the churchyard, with rooms for a Master and a Mistress.

The schoolhouse is in George Street, in the southwest corner of the churchyard, just off the High Street. There’s an inscription above the main door setting out the building’s history, but alas, as today’s trend would have it, the building has been converted into managed office space. Thankfully, though, the building’s saving grace is that its character and history remain intact.

Coal Tax – I’d never come across this historical reference before, not until I paused in the side street that runs from the High Street to Exchange Road where there are two bollards with slightly different inscriptions, but both bearing 24 VICT. 

My thanks to Iain Petrie for setting out that Coal-tax posts formed a rough circle about twenty miles from the centre of London, marking the points where taxes on coal and wine due to the Corporation of London had to be paid. First erected in the 1850s, there are reportedly between 200-250 of these, now classed as Grade II Listed buildings! Once you go looking, many websites plot their history, so why not explore for yourselves. Maybe you’ve seen one in your neighbourhood? 

Eyes down and looking! – Anyone for Bingo? Not anymore at this former Mecca Bingo hall in King Street. Its life began in 1913 as the Central Hall, with its fate, hands and usage changing many times, from Granada and several other cinemas owners. It then transitioned into a bingo hall eventually owned by Mecca up to its closure in 2014. Regardless of the current internal state of 29 flats, you have to stand back and admire the stunning and distinct early 20th century architecture.

My final town memory is on the east side of Watford, under the ring road into Queen’s Road The Broadway. According to various local historic sites, there’s quite a fascinating history of old shops on this road, but no reference to house/building no 83. However, the faded sign between the first-floor windows offers an insight into days gone by. The sign reads ‘Quality is our First Consideration’. 

There’s nothing in the vicinity to indicate what service this message refers to, but it’s a message that still holds to this day. But sadly, it’s often abused as it’s easy to say and exceptionally difficult to achieve consistently. I wonder if the current shop tenants, JJ Connect Care, have any information on the building history?

Picture of the Day – Six ages, which are you?

This somewhat faded wall art is under the gloomy flyover by the entrance to the New Watford Market along the High Street. It’s almost a forgotten piece, which is a shame as I believe the town could do more to promote this work. Instead, pedestrians and pop-up food stalls are oblivious to it being there. Either that or they simply ignore it as there’s nothing drawing attention to it.

Maybe it was an unsolicited piece, before the days when wall art became recognised and applauded for what it is now. I do sense though that it has been there for some time and thereby accepted as a part of Watford’s modern heritage. But come on, Watford Council, get a grip and recognise it as a part of your town, and maybe commission some other creative work too.

  • Location: New Watford Market, High Street, Watford
  • Date/Time: Wednesday 21st July 2021 1:12 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5; Shutter Speed – 1/125; Focal Length – 39mm; Film Speed – ISO2000

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