Wet Watford

Water finds its own level

By John Perry

Living as I do on the heights of Croxley Green, this engenders a feeling of confidence that maybe if it never stops raining, we at least will be safe until about two thirds of the World is inundated. As a young whipper-snapper I resided in Gladstone Road Watford, this was safely above the river Colne, but from where we could survey the flooding that happened nearly every year. The local newspapers carried a lot of articles on who was actually responsible for the water that overflowed the banks of the Colne on a regular basis. The opinion that eventually prevailed was that it was the river water came under Thames conservancy because the Colne eventually joined it.

A mill race

From the Five arches which carried the railway, there was constructed a mill race to carry water to the mill which stood at lower high street. This consisted of about a million engineering bricks of a dark blue colour. We as children fished for our tiddlers from this wall for all of our formative years, it is still in place. What was not done at the time of building this wall was to build another on the other side of the river! As the river rose as it did most years then the river took off at right angles (the left really) to assume its original path, breaking down the bank as it went. This is the second riverbed as you proceed down Water Lane, the arguments went on year after year but nothing was done, after all the playing fields, or REC to us was called Water Fields!

A local hero

One solution was for the council to construct a long boardwalk from one end to the other, which is from the second riverbed to the arch leading to Bushey Hall Road. Sometimes a lorry was provided to ferry people from Water Lane to Bushey Hall Road when even the boardwalk got under water. My friend lived in a house that was in the field on the other side of Water Lane and we used to go and wave to him as he was stranded on the upper floors of his cottage, which had the Palladium Shop blind company in the immediate vicinity. One year he was hailed as a hero when he made a raft and rescued some dogs that had been cut off in a field (these were greyhounds belonging to a local man). We hated him at the times of flooding because he did not have to go to school, never mind the fact that he was cut off!

Wading along the high street

Eventually the waters rose until lower high street was flooded as well, the most water being about where George Austin’s famous scrap yard still is. Every year the local papers would have a picture of people wading along the lower high street. Wiggenhall Road flooded so often that the pavements were raised where the road dipped to pass under the railway bridge. To make matters worse there was instigated in the sixties a massive system to take storm water from around the Avenue and the new ring road. There was work going on underground for some two years, as a large conduit was constructed right from the Avenue to Beechen Grove and then on down to Derby road. A specialist firm was called in to use a system called ‘pipe jacking’. This was used to push a system of pipes under the electrified railway line, which carried on working while work was in progress, and on down to the River Colne. Then when it rained at one end of the town the other end got all the water! Surely a work of genius?

Water finds its own level

We old Watfordians were waiting for it to rain a lot so we could say I told you so, now we can, water always finds its own level, we learned that at infants school. On the subject of water finding its own level here is a case to illustrate the point. At one time I lived in Maythorne Close, Watford, eventually it was decided to build the new fire station, (now demolished) at the bottom of our garden. We had the old Harwoods farm labourer’s house there for a number of years. There was a natural pond on the site also, and this was drained and filled in. Then up came the water to flood the new Ambulance garages, the pond was emptied and refilled with rubble, this flooded again. Then a pipe was put in to carry water to a small lagoon in the middle of the roundabout, this time it flooded the road. The problem was finally overcome by the use of a 1 metre square conduit to carry the water to a newly constructed large lagoon adjacent to the footpath on the far side of the roundabout, next to the old Sun engravers pump house.

A new hotel

When I read of a plan to build a hotel at the bottom of Water Lane Hill my incredulity was complete. The old college on the site (now demolished) was constructed on legs to keep it out of the water. The Venice Hotel? La Gondola? Surely this would be construed as building on a flood plain, do these modern builders know something that we do not?

All old Watfordians will remember the visiting Flanagan’s fairground, this always went into a field where the college was eventually built, and this had hard standing of crushed brick or similar. Some years later they tried the other side of Water Lane in Benskins old sports ground but it was too wet underfoot for them and a lot of huffing and puffing was needed to get the tractors out.

As I gaze down from Croxley Green it is still Raining!

This page was added on 22/12/2010.

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