Programme 2021/2022

The new season is upon us! We’re back in Cloisters Hall and meeting in person.

Members get the programme and reminders automatically, naturally, and we’ll advertise the talks in various ways. Non-members are very welcome, of course – but, even better, apply for membership!

Talks will be summarised in Rickmansworth Historical Review.

And what a programme we have this year! All are on Thursdays, and all start at 8pm.

Next up on 12th May 2022:

12 May 2022 – The Rickmansworth Week talk

Policing Rickmansworth before the Police Elaine Saunders

Hertfordshire Constabulary was created in 1841, and this talk will explain how Hertfordshire was policed before the coming of police forces. In particular, it describes the office of constable, from its Saxon roots to county policing in the nineteenth century. It looks in detail at the officers serving Rickmansworth during the eighteenth century, outlines their duties and authority, and sets out the county and local power networks within which they operated.

Overall, Elaine will provide a glimpse into the realities of maintaining law and order in one of Hertfordshire’s most populous towns, and how these early constables faced them.

9 June 2022 – the Annual General Meeting, followed by

The History of Allotments Kate Harwood

Although the start of the allotment movement is generally associated with the Victorian period, this talk looks further back – to the Middle Ages. With the decline in feudalism, and the start of Tudor land enclosures, the poorer section of the populace were facing problems feeding themselves from the land. Land grabs by the Diggers during the English Civil War were quickly suppressed, but the problem grew worse with the accelerating rate of enclosures and industrialisation in the 18th century. In the last part of the 18th century enlightened landowners began providing allotments for some of their workers. By the 19th century this trend had accelerated and the Poor Law Unions were encouraged to provide them as Outdoor Relief. Government legislation followed, perhaps the most famous being after the First World War when local councils were obliged to provide for the heroes returning from the Front – and where Hertfordshire was one of the more active councils. The decline of allotments in the face of ‘development’ has been around since the 18th century but is much accelerated. The popularity of allotments waxes and wanes but never disappears. This is their story.

Kate Harwood has written extensively on the history of gardens in Hertfordshire.

Talks delivered earlier this winter

14 April 2022. Sadly, Helen George was unable to speak to us as she’d intended onBusiness as Usual? The role of retailers in Watford during the First World War.’ Instead, our Chairman, Dr Heather Falvey, talked about ‘Riots and Riotous Behaviour in Hertfordshire’. She illustrated this with reference to events in 1381 and 1549, with riots in Berkhamsted in the 1620s and in Rickmansworth on several occasions.

It was quite a stand-in, at no notice!

Helen George will return to us later.

10 March 2022Georgian Industrial Transport Fabian Hiscock

As the need grew to transport the products (and raw materials) of the expanding manufacturing sector as the industrial revolution took off, the role of the road system became increasingly important. It supplemented the canal system, which provided the required bulk transport but could not serve places off the line. We were able to consider not only the vehicles used, but also the way carrying businesses were run.

10th Feb 2022Carpenters’ assembly marks in medieval buildingsBill Hardy

When large buildings were being assembled in medieval times, how did the carpenters keep track of how all the pre-cut pieces went together? Using examples from Hertfordshire and Essex, Bill explained – and dispelled some myths as well.

13th January 2022 -‘What I did on my holidays’: a young girl’s visit to London in 1892‘ – Chris Hillier

The talk was based on a journal written by Alfred Millbourn (the speaker’s great grandfather), who described in great detail a three week holiday that his cousin Hannah had, visiting London in 1892. They visited many places, largely on foot and by cab but also by river steamer, including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and a spectacular and very sophisticated “Venice in London” fireworks display at Olympia. The talk was illustrated with postcards and pictures of the time. Many of the places described and the attractions they experienced remain familiar today, although the means of getting there have changed hugely.

Chris Hillier is a member of the Society, and a regular presenter on a range of local topics.

10th December 2021 – Charles Holder, the master architect of the Underground – David Burnell

In the 1930s Charles Holden designed a number of stations for the London Underground that are now regarded as architectural classics, with most now listed as being of historical interest. In a fully illustrated talk David Burnell, a leading historian of the Underground, took us through the architectural and historical roots and practical requirements that led Holden to produce these masterpieces of British architecture. David also explained how, for Holden, they were also a spiritual expression. He covered, too, the role of the Holden’s stations in the expansion of London’s new suburbs (but not of Rickmansworth, Chorleywood, Croxley Green or Watford, which were Metropolitan Railway buildings and quite different).

David Burnell has spoken several times to the Society on different aspects of the infrastructure of the London Underground, and we look forward to hearing him again in the future.

11 November 2021

Miracles of King Henry VI in Hertfordshire Dr Heather Falvey

King Henry VI died in 1471, and in the years that followed miracles attributed to him occurred all over the country. This king was regarded as ineffectual in his life time, but was venerated for his holiness after his death. Attempts were made to have Henry canonised as a saint, and during the course of this process details of over 300 miracles were recorded. After outlining the three Hertfordshire miracles, Heather showed how Henry’s cult gives many varied insights into medieval people’s lives.

Heather Falvey is chairman of the Rickmansworth Historical Society. A lecturer on and researcher and writer of local history, she is also engaged with the British Association for Local History, the Hertfordshire Records Society and the Richard III Society.

14 October 2021

Poles Apart: The story of Barnes Lodge, Kings Langley in World War 2

Roger Yapp

“Poles Apart” is the little known story of Barnes Lodge, Kings Langley during World War 2. Based on original research, the talk was one of four given (on line) to the Annual Symposium of the Hertfordshire Association of Local History in November 2020 on the subject of “A Country House at War”. However, Roger has developed it further as more information has come to him, and this was not the same!

From the outside Barnes Lodge looked much like any other English country house of Edwardian vintage, set in a clearing at the top of a steep drive overlooking the valley of the River Gade. A discreet notice read “Private”, and motorists driving past the village of Kings Langley on the A41 were unlikely to give a second thought as they negotiated the bend and the railway arch just after the drive. Villagers drinking in the isolated Eagle pub, two hundred yards from the gate, or at Ye Olde Red Lion, beside the railway arch would have known that the Lodge had been given over to “War Work” but little else. The War Office knew exactly what it was doing when it requisitioned the Lodge soon after the outbreak of the war.

The Polish contingent were keeping up radio communications with the resistance in Poland, and providing essential information to (among others) Bletchley Park, who were already using the Enigma-breaking work of their predecessors in 1935. Their exploits received careful explanation by Roger.

Roger Yapp is the Chairman of the Abbots Langley Local History Society, and has researched the area extensively. He was heavily involved in the commemorations of the First World War in the village.

9 September 2021 

The School on the Common: a history of Christ Church Chorleywood C of E School 1853 – 2020.       Gillian Pugh

Dame Gillian Pugh spoke outstandingly about the main findings from her book of the same name, published in July by the Rickmansworth Historical Society. In doing so she told us about, not only the school, but also the way it fitted in to the local community and what the effect was on Chorleywood and its people – great local history.

Set up by Christ Church in 1853, this small village primary school has become one of the best primary schools in the country. The book draws on head teachers’ log books and documents going back to its earliest days, as well as memories and reflections from past pupils, parents, governors and teachers.

The history of the school gives a window into the changing nature of Chorleywood, as it grew from a small cluster of farms and hamlets to become the prosperous commuter village it is today. The talk reflected on the changes in what children learn and how they are taught, and on the impact of government legislation, and it also examined what makes the school distinctive, as a church school with its particular Christian ethos and values, and at the advantages of its geographical location on Chorleywood Common.

Talks delivered last year

10 September 2020 (on line)

The 5 Acre Chartists        Kate Harwood

Frustrated by the ‘Great’ Reform Act of 1832 failing to extend the vote to all working men, Feargus O’Connor decided instead to set up a scheme whereby the working man could achieve enough money to fulfil the criterion for being eligible to vote. This he did by setting up the Land Colonies, the first at Herringsgate Farm, renamed O’Connorville.

Kate’s talk looked at the rise and subsequent fall of O’Connor’s scheme, its forerunners and its legacy, and allowed us to see how local people were able (or not) to help the frequently ill-prepared incomers from the industrial midlands and north. It’s a period of our local history with resonance even now.

8 October 2020 (on line)

The parishioners of St Mary’s before the Reformation    Dr  Heather Falvey

Just over 200 wills of Rickmansworth parishioners survive dating from 1417 to 1539. When put together the details that they contain provide glimpses of the medieval parish, of its members and of St Mary’s church itself.

Our chairman presented an important analysis of what we learn about the late-medieval church building from the references to, and endowments of, it in these wills, for example about the way in which the various saints were honoured with side-altars. Rickmansworth is unusually well-served in the large number of extant wills of this period, and few other parishes will have such a strong picture of what was going on at this time.

12 November 2020 (on line)

Smoke, Steam and Soot        David Burnell

David followed his terrific talk last year on the Art of the Underground, after which a group of us were able to visit the LUL art collection at Acton, with a more historical view of the building of the first underground railway.

It involved less work ‘under the ground’ than might have been expected. The technique of ‘cut and cover’ allowed the railway to be laid under the streets of London with little tunnelling but (no doubt) major disruption. Not everyone was impressed: the experience of travelling on this steam powered underground was not without its hazards, and David drew on the writings of those who ventured through what The London Times described as ‘tunnels with sewer drippings in London’s foul subsoil’.

It sounds lovely – but it was a fine lecture.

10 December 2020 (on line)

Lord Ebury’s railway        Chris Hillier

This was the postponed Rickmansworth Week lecture from May 2020.

Chris Hillier told the story of the short-lived railway opened in the 1860s that ran from Rickmansworth to Watford. If all had gone to plan Rickmansworth might have had a broad gauge station as well as a standard gauge one.

14 January 2021 (on line)

The history of Hertfordshire’s Police        Andy Wiseman

Andy Wiseman is a serving Inspector with the Hertfordshire Constabulary and secretary of the Constabulary’s Historical Society – one of very few in the country. His talk explores the origins of the force which has policed Hertfordshire since 1841 and charts its key developments up to the present day.

Featuring photography from the Hertfordshire Constabulary Historical Society’s unique collection, Andy’s talk explored over 175 years of triumph, tragedy and intrigue within the county’s police force.

A lot of the history of policing in Hertfordshire is on the terrific website

11 February 2021 (on line)

Timber-framed buildings in Hertfordshire and Essex   Helen Gibson   

There being no building stone in Hertfordshire and Essex, the major material for building, at least in the medieval period, was timber. Barns, houses and farm buildings can be dated and we can now confidently identify buildings dating from the twelfth century to the present – and indeed, Helen took us to Cressing Temple, a site of the Knights Templar with a barley barn of about 1200 and a wheat barn about fifty years younger. Techniques of northern France had an influence here, and Helen introduced us to dating techniques based on the style of joints distinctive to the thirteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – as she said, we might think all these buildings are similar, but they’re not! And she showed us examples from many parts, and towns, of both counties.

Perhaps our most famous building around Rickmansworth is the Croxley Great Barn, and Helen showed us that in depth. Among other things, she reminded us that it’s one of eight built in about 1400 under Abbot John de Moote, several probably using timber re-cycled from work on the roof of the Abbey. There are a number of these barns still extant around the two counties, but of course now something of a white elephant for the farmers who own (and use) them – and so often at some risk. Much to think about!

11 March 2021 (on line)

Beacons of the Past – investigating a prehistoric Chilterns landscape  – Dr Wendy Morrison

Beacons of the Past is a 3.5 year project (although Dr Morrison announced during her talk that it’s just been extended by a year) part funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Chiltern Society and the National Trust, amongst others. Its purpose is to engage and inspire communities to discover, conserve and enjoy the Chilterns’ Iron Age hillforts and their prehistoric chalk landscapes.

Project Manager Dr Wendy Morrison spoke with great clarity and enthusiasm about some of the results of the UK’s largest bespoke archaeological LiDAR survey, the project’s outreach programmes and the shape of the project’s future. She introduced the value of the thousands of ‘citizen scientists’ and other amateur contributors who have done a huge amount of work in support of the project, and told us about the education programmes she and her colleagues and collaborators have been able to run.

Visit to find out more!

8 April 2021 (on line)

Sights most strange’:  tourists in medieval and early modern London        John Clark

‘I pray you, let us satisfy your eyes | With the memorials and things of fame | That do renown this city.’ (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night).

But visitors to London were already being shown its ‘memorials and things of fame’ long before Shakespeare’s time. This talk considered some of the early ‘sights of London’ that they saw, from the Giants in the Guildhall to the Great Whalebone in Whitehall, the lions at the Tower and the baboons in Southwark. What were they? Why were they thought interesting? And what strange stories were visitors told about them? John Clark gave us a wonderful insight – and not at all what we might have expected.

13 May 2021 – the Rickmansworth Week Lecture

A tour of Croxley Green by picture postcard         David Loose

Like most towns and villages in the early twentieth century, Croxley Green in the first quarter of the last century was the subject of a great number of picture postcards. Many of these were made by photographers hoping to sell them to people whose area, perhaps even home, was captured in them. David took us on a guided tour of Croxley through some of his impressive collection of early postcards of the village, stopping on the way to look at some of the people in them and who sent them – and it was there that the value of his research really came through. Real local history, with the stories behind the pictures so well laid out.

10 June 2021

The Slave owners of West Hertfordshire – Brian Thomson

West Hertfordshire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was home to a number of families who owned slave estates in the Caribbean. Focusing on four families in particular, Brian’s talk explored these local links with Britain’s colonial past, explaining who these people were, how they came to be ‘owners’ of the enslaved people, and the roles they played both locally and overseas.

Brian Thomson is the Society’s Research Office, and has researched and written widely on local topics, including the First World War in Croxley Green and Rickmansworth. He has lived and worked for several years in the Caribbean, and has brought considerable personal observation to this important topic. An exhibition based on his research will be in the Three Rivers Museum in due time.

His editing of the book on the local people who died in the First World War, Rickmansworth Roll of Honour, has just been published.

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