Answers to Questions


HEDGES, 122 High Street, Watford, mid 19th century

January, 2011




Iain Murtagh (ism68 @t of Watford writes: My ancestor William Hedges was a harness and saddle maker and had a business in Marylebone. He came from Watford originally and his third wife Lydia (formerly Solloway) appears to have owned, and resided at, 122 High Street, Watford (otherwise known as Hedges Yard) William died in 1848,and after he died it seems Lydia moved back to Watford to Hedges Yard. Lydia died nearly 40 years later in 1884, still in Watford, however I don't know what happened to Hedges Yard as it seems to have disappeared. I'm trying to find more details of the location, what it consisted of, pictures and so on but have drawn a blank. It is shown on maps in name only.

Have a look at the topic Locating Census Addresses on Maps which discusses the problem of naming yards. Basically the modern idea of property addresses for everyday buildings in villages and towns was unknown a couple of hundred years ago. Watford was (before the opening of the railway) little more than a single street carrying a busy turnpike road. The inns and public houses would all have had signs (most people could not read) and their names tended to stick. Some of the bigger houses might have had names, and others may have had long established names. However properties were often referred to by description (the white house), use (the blacksmith's shop) or the name of the current occupier, or sometimes the former occupier.

If you look at the census returns from 1851 to 1881 you will find the Hedges family in the same property in Watford High Street between the Vicarage and the Kings Arms, and next door to the shortlived Maltsters Arms in 1861 and 1871. In other documents it might have been described as being on the other side of the High Street to the Eight Bells public house.  It would seem that all the name Hedge's yard tells us is that a family called Hedges lived there and it had a yard.

The picture on the right shows 122 High Street as it was in 1900.

What do the census returns tell us about the property.

  • In 1841 the house occupied by Davis Darvill and his son John, who made harness (as did William Hedges in Marylebone) was next door to the grocer's shop which I believe later started selling beer and called itself the Maltsters Arms.

  • In 1851 Lydia Hedges, proprietor of houses, was in residence, and her son George was a horse slaughterer.

  • In 1861 Lydia was absent and George was described as a labourer.

  • In 1871 census Lydia was independent, and there was no-one in the house whose occupation gives a clue as to the use of the yard

  • In 1881 Lydia was an owner of freehold property, and son James was a plumber.

  • In 1891, 1901 and 1911 the property was a drapers shop run first by John William Ellis and finally by his daughter, Lucy Mary Ellis.

Apart from the trade of horse slaughter (knacker in common parlance) none of the census returns show an occupation where a yard would be obligatory. There is no evidence of the buildings round a rear yard being used as housing - which often happened.

The County trade directories are of little help extra help. I can find no matching entry until John W Ellis is listed at a draper at 124 High Street in 1882, moving next door to 122 by 1886. [Or the 124 could be an error???] By 1912 the property was occupied by William S Wilson, motor and electrical engineer. (A postcard posted in 1914 does not show the property but part of the "GARAGE" sign can be seen.) This is another use of the property where a rear yard would be useful.

The 1877 large scale Ordnance Survey map of the area shows a passage leaving the High Street between the King Street junction (where the Kings Arms was) and the Vicarage. This passage, and possibly one or more of the small closes south of the Vicarage garden, presumably formed Hedges Yard.



112 High Street, Watford in 1900

(the colours are painted onto a black & white photograph and may not be correct.)



Full postcard image from 1900



OS Map -1877 - detail

There could be other pictures of the High Street frontage in the picture books of Watford, or in the collection of old photographs in the Local Studies section of Watford Central Library.  Pictures of the rear yards are must less common

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

February 2011   Page created