Recording our Experiences at a Historic Moment

We live in truly historic times. When COVID-19 has faded, as eventually it will, its legacy will be with us for some time, perhaps permanently. We who have lived through it have a chance now to capture what’s happening, so that those who come after us will know how it all felt at the time. There are many schemes for doing this nationally, but it’s for individuals to record our personal experiences and observations, and those we see around us, before coming together later to present how our neighbourhoods, areas and communities have been affected.

 Rickmansworth Historical Society has joined the Abbots Langley Local History Society to support an initiative by Three Rivers Museum Trust, in conjunction with, we hope, other community groups. You will, I hope, have read about it in various local ‘news’ magazines, and each TRDC Councillor has been informed. Together, we’re asking local people, if they wish, to join us in recording their experiences – what’s happened to them, what they’ve seen and heard, at a time of remarkable changes and uncertainty. The more people, the wider the age range and the more diverse the backgrounds of the ‘diarists’ the better the contribution will be to those who will want to know, in fifty or a hundred years time, what it felt like to be involved – the lows, the highs, the anxieties, the realisms of it all.

The Museum will, later on, collect in whatever people want to submit – they have the space and the local ‘reach’ to do this, at least locally, here around Rickmansworth and Three Rivers. Everything will be logged and kept safe, and sorted: some may be passed (with the originator’s permission) to the Hertfordshire Archives, some even to the British Library. Some will used (again with permission) for a display or exhibition. And much will just be kept safely for use later by people researching this remarkable time.

So – right now, everyone is invited to take part, if they wish, in this local initiative, by keeping a diary which they might later want to pass in to provide a historic record. Much of what historians value highest is the recorded personal recollection – ‘memories matter’, and we can contribute ours to this unique situation. Nothing is too trivial to be worth recording, especially while it’s fresh in our minds – a personal story will be really important. And it includes ‘things’ – COVID-related leaflets and letters we receive, photographs, artefacts, even newspapers (although these collect themselves anyway). If they have significance for you, they’re part of the story.   

Some of what’s recorded will be deeply personal and, especially where people we love have been lost, very painful; but these memories will be the more important for that, even if not for public sharing. So just how we bring all this together later needs more work, which we’re now doing, and that will cover how it’s published at some later date. But the first thing to do is capture what’s happening locally around us, and how we feel about it. All who wish can get on with that, while keeping it private and safe until later.

How best to do it? It really doesn’t matter – whatever’s convenient to you. It’s much more important to have the record than to make it ‘pretty’. So you might use a diary, or a notebook, or sheets of loose paper; or a computer file, or an audio recording on your smart phone, iPad or whatever. We’ll post more guidance on the websites as we think of it – the important thing is not to forget it by delaying! Photos are important too, of familiar scenes now changed, or even those which haven’t changed as they might have done.

If you’re willing to do this, it would be helpful (not essential) to let us know, so that we have some idea of what we’re lining up for. E-mail, if you can,,, or leave a message (by text, preferably) on 07767 831924.

But don’t, please, send anything in yet – that comes later. For now, just record what you feel like recording. It really matters, not just to us, but to those who come after us.

Mrs Barbara Owen MBE – ‘Mrs Rickmansworth’

By Alison Wall, on behalf of all who knew and loved Barbara.

Barbara Owen (nee Gravestock) was a Rickmansworth girl from the day she was born.  She lived in the centre of Rickmansworth, with her parents and elder sister Marion.  She excelled in school and gained a scholarship to Watford Grammar School for Girls at the age of ten.  She continued to shine and became Head Girl there.  After her schooling she pursued a teaching career. She moved to Bournemouth during the war years to finish her training and when the war ended, moved to London for her first teaching post. It was at this time she was introduced to her future husband Jack Owen. He had just retired from the Merchant Navy after 14 years’ service as a Lieutenant. The following year in 1947 they were married in St Mary’s, Rickmansworth.

Her early married life was very happy and four daughters arrived in fairly quick succession.  However Barbara had many challenges in her life and Jack suffered an eighteen month period of tuberculosis whilst the girls were young in the 1950’s.  Barbara managed to survive and care for the whole family, with her skill in needlework and cooking.  She ensured the family enjoyed healthy, nutritious meals.  Jack recovered, but in 1963 suffered a fatal cardiac arrest – I remember Mr Owen, who taught me at Shepherd’s junior school in Mill End shortly before his unexpected death. 

So Barbara was left a widow with four girls to bring up and facing considerable death duties.

Barbara returned to teaching, and was helped by the fact that she had been a Head Examiner for school exam papers.  She was interviewed at Watford Grammar School for Girls, where she had been Head Girl, and a post was created for her there, which enabled her to gain her way back to the world of teaching.

Barbara taught in various schools, including Joan of Arc and Clement Danes.  She did not actually finally stop teaching until she reached her eighties. 

Alongside her teaching work Barbara has given her all to her community in the various voluntary roles she took on in Rickmansworth. She headed up the catering committee at St. Mary’s and was Chair of Three Rivers Museum Trust for many years until her death.  She was Secretary of the Ricky Society and loved her involvement with the costume department of the Museum of London.

She was awarded the MBE for services to the Community in 2012 at the remarkable age of ninety, and had her award presented by Prince Charles. 

Another family tragedy happened suddenly in 2016, when her eldest daughter Margaret died unexpectedly from intestinal complications.  It is heart breaking to lose a child and so suddenly. Barbara gradually became frailer over the following years, and spent her last few weeks cared for in Watford General Hospital, still mentally alert but with physical frailties.

She has given so much to her community, but her focus was always others and not herself.  Barbara often said how grateful she was to everyone, but we are grateful to her for all she has done for us and for her example – impossible to follow. You could speak to Barbara about anything, and she had no airs or graces.  She made you laugh with her humour and expressions. She remained positive to the end and grateful for all that life had given her. 

There will only ever be one Barbara, a person we are all privileged to have known and loved.  She will always be remembered, and, like her, we are grateful.

Hertfordshire Year of Culture 2020

Look out for the Historical Society’s contribution to the YoC2020. All our talks and other events will be listed on the YoC Events and What’s On pages on the Creative Hertfordshire website, and we expect the network will grow quickly across the county. There’s going to be a lot going on – and not just in Rickmansworth!

The Lock-ups of Rickmansworth

The Open University has a project to locate historic ‘cages’, lock-ups, prisons, police stations and the like across the country. We have contributed the information about the original ‘cage’ for Rickmansworth, which was at the rear of the now-demolished Beresford Almshouses in the High Street, adjacent to what is now the Fox and Hounds. It was replaced by the new police station cells in Talbot Road in 1864.

The research was done by our founder Godfrey Cornwall and first published in the third edition of The Rickmansworth Historian in early 1962.

The BALH website is at https// Search for Hertfordshire, 1700-1799, and go to the map to find Rickmansworth: but there are another 718 lock-ups listed!

The Rivers of Three Rivers

There has always been an interest in the original courses of the three rivers Chess, Gade and Colne as they met at Rickmansworth before the Grand Junction Canal was cut and changed the courses of all three. At least two local residents are working, independently, to follow in the footsteps of Geoff Saul and resolve the matter for once and for all.

One problem, of course, is that the rivers did not stick rigidly to their bed – so when do we define ‘original’? A major flood, such as that of February 1795, may well have made significant changes as the rivers flowed though farmland. Few of the old maps, which seem to offer vital clues, were surveyed suficiently accurately to be reliable. And there are very few primary sources which describe the rivers clearly enough to help.

So work continues on this long-standing conundrum, helped (or perhaps not) by a constant commentary, with maps etc, on local Facebook pages. This Society may take this as a proper research project in the near future!

A disorderly Mill End alehouse in 1588

In 1588 27 residents from various parts of the old parish petitioned JPs Sir Charles Morison and Francis Heydon about the alehouse in Mill End run by Richard Heyward. Poor men were wasting their time and money there, so that their families were suffering. By investigating the identities of the petitioners, JPs and alehouse-keeper it is possible to reconstruct local attitudes and social alignments. (From this distance in time it is impossible to locate Heyward’s alehouse.)rose-and-crown-rhs