Heath Farm, Watford, early 20th century

March, 2010




Justin Roake (justin.roake @t ntlworld.com) of Witney, Oxon, writes: I have picked up a large photo album at a car boot sale, which contains many photos, but no surnames, and I am trying to find the family with a view to restoring it to them. it seems to be from Watford or Rickmansworth area, and there is a photo of an imposing property called 'Heath Farm' and of its large gardens. I do not know if this was the family's house, but seems likely there is some connection, so it would be a useful starting point for me.  Can you help?.

Before emailing to request copies of some of the pictures I did a quick search of the 1908 Kelly's Hertfordshire Directory on the Historical Directories web site. The following "Heath Farm" entries showed up - but others undoubtedly have been missed. At this stage the most likely candidate was Heath Farm, Grove Mill Lane, Watford, but more evidence was needed.

Baldock Sale, William farmer Heath Farm
Hemel Hempstead Turner, William   Heath Farm, St John's Road
Kings Walden Jackson, George farmer Heath Farm
Northchurch Chapman, Henry Arthur farmer Little Heath Farm
St Albans Reynolds, Jacob farmer & dairyman Heath Farm, Sandridge Road
Watford Comyns, Richard Henry   Heath Farm, Grove Mill Lane
Welwyn Jackson, George farmer Heath Farm, Breachwood Green

In reply Justin sent a number of photographs and I show some of them below with his text (in italics) and my comments. He wrote: I attach photos. The first two are of Heath Farm, and as you can see it is a substantial property and gardens. It seems to have tennis courts and stables.  Also is shot 'by the canal' with a distinctive bridge in the background. I note is says 'the' rather than 'a'.

This snapshot, of a barge passing under a bridge on a canal is, without any doubt, Bridge Number 164 over the Grand Union Canal.  This was built as part of the deal to allow the canal to pass through the Grove Park Estate, to the North of Watford.

This is just north of Bridge 165 which carries Grove Mill Lane, Watford, over the canal and as you can see is much grander than the original brick bridges that cross the canal.


Heath Farm


Compare the roof pattern on the south facing front of the building - and in particular in the S.W. corner there is the shadow of a chimney, and three features which fit with the dormer windows. (Click on picture for wider view.

There can be no  doubt that this building is Heath Farm, Grove Mill Lane, Watford. I can find no contemporary pictures of the house but it is probably behind the left hand hedge in this postcard.

The right hand picture shows the little girl standing in front of the arcade at the front of Heath Farm. This, and other pictures apparently taken at the same time, suggests that the wooden building. below, is also part of the farm.




The little girl, similar age, different clothing, named "Babs", also appears in other pictures (not shown here), "at the Farm" and it seems very likely that it is also Heath Farm - although there are few distinctive features to identify them. (One shows her on a tennis court and a tennis court is visible in the full google satellite view.)

All the photos are amateur and solidly pasted down so cannot easily look on
the backs. Those that are loose have nothing on the back

I would agree that the photographs are amateur and they appear to be from early roll film cameras. The dates you mention (1913, 1919 and 1920) support the idea - so the next question is to identify the family who lived at Heath Farm at the time.


Warning about Dates

The Victoria County History, Volume 2, published in 1907, says that Heath Farm was the seat of William Baliol Brett, Viscount Esher, the eminent judge. It is important to remember that such massive histories take years to compile and information can be years out of date by the time it appears in print.

A check of the Kelly's Hertfordshire Directories shows that up to the 1899 edition Lord Esher lived there. (Wikipedia says that the first Viscount Esher died in 1899.) As the Honourable Sir William B. Brett he had been at Heath Farm since before the 1871 census and before that (1861 census) it had been the home of Henry G Tuke, solicitor, so it may have been gentleman's residence rather than a full working farm for some time before the pictures were taken.

A Richard Henry Comyms is recorded as living at Heath Farm in directories between 1902 and 1914 - but is not listed in 1917 or later. The household in the 1901 census (with added information from FreeBMD) is:

Name   Age Occupation Born [From FreeBMD]
Richard Henry Comyns Head 36 Silversmith (Manufacturer) London, Soho Birth Mar 1865 Strand 1b 517; Married Mar 1917 St George Hanover Square 1a 974 to Alice M Keys. Died June 1953 Henley 6b 759
Emma Flora Comyns Wife 35   London, Marylebone
Evelyn Flora Comyns Daughter 13   London, St Pancras Birth Mar 1888 Pancras 1B 16: Married Francis [or Frank] D. Pritchard Jun 1915 Watford 3a 2107
Gwendolen Maud Comyns Daughter 6   Herts, Watford Birth Sep 1894 Watford 3a 5_0: Married Charles F N Budd Jun 1915 Watford 3a 2106
Iris Mary Comyns Daughter 4   Herts, Watford Birth Sep 1896 Watford 3a 627: Married Ronald C Franklin Dec 1931 Paddington1a 124
Alice Maud Keys Sister in Law 31   London, St Marylebone
Mary Ann Madkins Servant 47 Nurse Bucks, Padbury
Caroline Eliza Cass Servant 24 Parlourmaid Essex, Hertford Broad Oak
Ada Mary Fleet Servant 25 Cook Bucks, Wingrave
Elizabeth Butler Servant 20 Housemaid Bucks, Little Missenden

Quick searches of the 1881, 1891 and 1911 (index only) censuses show that Richard was the son of William and Elizabeth Comyns and had a brother Charles Harling Comyns. Richard moved to Watford before 1891, when he was living at Hazeldene, Nascot Road, Watford. He and his immediate family were at Heath Farm at the time of the 1911 census, while his brother Charles was living at The Warren, Bushey Heath, near Watford with his wife Annie, and children Charles Cecil, Marjorie and Frances Harling. Directories show that Charles was still living at The Warren until at least 1922. A search of Access to Archives associated Richard and his brother Charles with the London silversmiths, William Comyns and Sons.

Taking an overview the marriage index entries are interesting. Richard Henry Comyns was married to Emma Flora [Keys] in about 1887 (I haven't found the reference) but in 1917 married her sister Alice Maud Keys in London. In April-June 1915 there appears to have been a double wedding at Watford (entries have adjacent page references) and I suspect there could have been a report in the Watford Observer newspaper.. His daughter Evelyn Flora Comyns married Francis (or Frank) D Pritchard while Gwendolyn Maud Comyns married Charles F N Budd. Daughter Iris Mary did not marry until 1931. The following grandchildren have been identified, all born in Wales:

Susanne E Budd birth registered Mar 1916  Newport M 11a 467

David R D Pritchard birth registered Mar 1917 Newport M 11a 434

John C Budd birth registered Mar 1918 Newport M 11a 434

Elizabeth C Budd birth registered Dec 1919 Abergavenny 11a 84

The sixth seventh and eighth photos show family members, and the seventh is labelled 'Hen convention at Watford'.  Another is labelled Watford 1919. And another couple are labelled 'in the hay at Watford' looks like harvest-time. As regards other clues, one photo is labelled 'two Jewish friends', and I suspect these are the mother and father called (I think) Jim and Helen. I have guessed that his album belonged to the little girl in some of the shots called . Other names are Mabel and Violet.

There are very real difficulties with matching the pictures with the Comyns family that lived there.

  • None of the names (Babs, Jim, Helen, Mabel, Violet) match any of the Comyns names.

  • If Babs was a nickname for a Budd grandchild one might expect brother John to appear iu the pictures.

  • There is only one photo I have seen which might fit the age profile of part of the Comyn family (mother, father, two adult daughters) when one might expect more - so almost certainly a different family.

  • The Richard Comyns family had left Watford before 1919.


Francis Pritchard (francispritchard @t gmail.com) of Durham writes: My grandmother Evelyn Flora Comyns lived at Heath Farm in Watford. I have her photograph albums from around 1914 with pictures of the house. I can confirm that [the people in the above photograph] are not the Comynses!


  The fourth photo is of the house called Fiona, labelled simply "Fiona 1913" - the house could be anywhere

The key question is who moved into the house after about 1916? And did they previously live in Fiona?

But who were they?

Justin then provided some information of the order of the photographs in the album, which clearly put the Heath Farm photographs around 1920:

The Fiona picture (dated 1913) is pasted to the inside back cover of the album. At the beginning however there are photos taken in what looks like a suburban garden. There are then photos of family members (one labelled Watford 1919) and the a sequence of holiday photos labelled Felixstowe July 1919 and 1920. Next come some pictures of the young girl aged ?2 and so I can assume her birth year was 1917. Then many pictures from another holiday in Jersey, 1920, with various pictures of the island, esp St Brelade. The another dated Jersey 1921. Then 'in the hay at Watford, Babs with Mona (the dog I think), Babs in the Farmyard, Beside the Tennis Court, the Babs and Mabel, and Violet and Mabel., Heath Farm, lots more paddling in the sea photos (Jersey again I think).

I had hoped the next stage would be relatively easy. Because of the size of the house and the social status of its occupants I would have expected it to be listed in Kelly's Hertfordshire Directory for 1917. Unfortunately I failed to find the farm in a visual scan (the directory is not indexed by address). There are many reasons why it might not be listed:

  • The house had only recently been vacated and was empty when the directory was drawn up.

  • The house had been commandeered for Army use (Many troops were based in Watford for training during the First World War.

  • The farm was owned by the Grove estate, and rented out. The house/farm was now being used by the Estate and was not separately listed.

  • The new occupant had given it a new name.

  • The house was being used by a commercial organisation, and is listed by the organisation name without a full address.

  • The entry may have been accidentally left out of the directory.

  • etc.

To make matters worse a similar scan of the 1922 directory came up with the same result.

Can You Help?


To go further we need the surname of the occupants of the house circa 1920.

It may be possible to solve this mystery by consulting the Kelly's Watford Street Directories - which are available in Watford Central library. These list properties by address, and an examination of the entries for Grove Mill Lane might well clarify the situation. The Lane is quite short as the entries for 1960 (the earliest year I have access to) show. The library may also have electoral rolls of the period.

Grove Mill Lane
Bruton, Mrs M. A. (Heath Farm ho)
Robson, Wm., (Heath Farm cott)
Brown, Wm. C. (Canal cott)
Day, Regnld, (Grove Mill cott)
Smith, Mrs. (Mill cott)
East, Arthur, Limited, millers (Grove Mill)
Kirkness, Desmond (Grove Mill)
Bradley, Wm. (Old Mill ho)


March 2013

Mary-Anne Smith (maryannesmith42 @t gmail.com) of London writes: I came upon a message about Heath Farm using google.  Justin Roake in March 2010 was asking about a family who lived in the house in the 1920s as he had picked up a family album at a car boot sale. 

I can inform you that our family the Phillips owned the house. (My father's grandfather Alfred Phillips bought the house although we are not sure of the exact year).  Justin mentions pictures of Mabel and Violet and holidays in Jersey.  Alfred had five children Mabel, Violet, Reg, Cyril and Alfred.  I spoke to my father (who is now 85) and he confirmed that these two ladies were his aunts and that they lived in the house for most of their lives.  The house was eventually sold to developers in 1970s.  Mabel Brunton was widowed in the first world war and never remarried.  The cottages attached to the main house were also lived in and my stepgrandmother Kath Spur lived in one of these. The house and gardens had been fairly grand but my father recalls that they were beginning to fall into disrepair in his boyhood.  At one time a team of gardeners had been employed.

I have vivid memories of Aunty Mabel (or "Bubby" as she was known) as an invalid lying in her day room feeding a tame robin and squirrel.  She was a rather frightening figure for a child with an extraordinary inhaler for her asthma but was actually a delightful lady.  I came with my brother to collect conkers in the meadow behind the house.  Her sister Violet Chamberlain lived in the house with her husband Bernard for many years.

March 2010   Page created
May 2010   Francis report picture not the Comyns