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The High Street, Bushey - geograph.org.uk - 84349.jpg
High Street, Bushey
Grid reference: TQ132952
Location: 51°38’34"N, 0°21’37"W
Population: 24,000
Post town: Bushey
Postcode: WD23
Dialling code: 020, 01923
Local Government
Council: Hertsmere

Bushey is a town in southern Hertfordshire, a little to the southeast of Watford and close to the Middlesex border. The village of Bushey Heath forms part of the same town area, and runs down to and indeed trespasses over that border.

Though uncomfortably close to the vastly swelling London metrolpolis, and closer still to Watford, Bushey retains the feeling of a small town and this is reinforced with events such as the Bushey Festival and quarter marathon which is held each July and the Horticultural Society's flower and produce show.

Name of the town

The first written record of Bushey is an account in the Domesday Book of 1086, in which it is named as Bissei. The name appears as Biss(h)e and then Bisheye during the twelfth century.

The origin of the name is not settled. An early theory in the Reverend J B Johnstone's book The Place-Names of England and Wales takes it from the Domesday Bissei and says that it may have meant 'Byssa's Isle', and that Bushey started life as a lake-village surrounded by marshes, streams and lakes. A more modern theory (albeit a less romantic one) is that it is simply derived from the Old English word bysce influenced by the Old French boisseie, meaning "bosky" (wooded). The latter theory is more apt, as the town is located on the border of the Chiltern valleys, which were once covered in dense forests of oak, elm, ash, hazel and juniper.


Stone Age tools have been found in Bushey, providing evidence that the area was inhabited as far back as the Old Stone Age. Little trace remains of the Iron Age, but the Romans were here; the main road running through Bushey is the course of a Roman road and the sites of possible Roman villas have been unearthed in the area. A Roman tessellated pavement was discovered near Chiltern Avenue.

The village itself throve in the Anglo-Saxon period. The first written record of Bushey is an account in the Domesday Book of 1086, in which it is named as Bissei.

The village of Bushey Heath was created during the Napoleonic Wars, which had created a lamentable shortage of food. To help solve the problem, the government awarded the waste land to the east of Bushey to Bushey landowners to be used as farming; this land was more generally known as Bushey Common. It is doubtful that any of it was actually used to produce food due to the poor, clayey soil conditions, but being 500 feet above the sea and having beautiful and broad views was to give birth to the attractive neighbourhood we know today.

St James Church, Bushey

The 19th and 20th Centuries marked the time of most change in Bushey, especially between the years 1860 and 1960. The population rose 28-fold within 200 years, from 856 in 1801, to just under 24,000 today. This expansion was due to many reasons, one of the main ones being due to the boom in industry caused by the railway in the early 20th century. A result of this was that many new jobs were created in and around Watford, and in the early 1920s, Bushey's first council houses were built. More housing was later built for the service families working in defence organisations in Stanmore and Northwood.

The expansion eventually died down, due to much of the land in and around Bushey being protected under the Metropolitan Green Belt after the Second World War. This same legislation was also partly responsible for the abandonment of the pre-war idea to extend London Underground's Northern Line from Edgware to Bushey Heath; part of the "Northern Heights" programme. The Green Belt put great restrictions on new development, and the plan was to use the new railway to stimulate new housing around the new route; without the new housing the route was deemed no longer viable. However, as work was advanced at the onset of war the depot was completed for use as bomber manufacture, and following the Second World War and Metropolitan Green Belt coming into force it was converted into the Aldenham bus depot (used in the early scenes of Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday), which it remained until 1985, when it became derelict. It was redeveloped in 1996 and is now the Centennial Park industrial estate. Bushey Heath station would have been located at the intersection of Elstree Road and Northwestern Avenue. Conceptual plans existed in the 1903 Act of Parliament for an Edgware to Watford railway that would have seen the railway extended at a later date though Bushey village and on to Watford market, though even less came of this than the partially completed Edgware to Bushey Heath stretch.

Stories, legends and folklore

The lack of farming in Bushey Heath meant that it was a heavily wooded area up to the 18th century, and this, added to the lack of street lighting and police, meant that Bushey Heath's history is full of tales of thieves, highwaymen and murder.

According to Grant Longman's Robberies on Bushey Heath, the road from Bushey Heath to Stanmore is said to be where the highwaymen lurked, ready to raid the dozen or so trails of coaches that passed through Bushey Heath daily, carrying money from trade in London. Before venturing through the pass, parties of travellers and merchants would form at the Boot Inn at Edgware and The Three Crowns at Bushey Heath so that they need not venture through the pass alone. Local legend says that the infamous Dick Turpin was one of the highwaymen haunting the heath hereabouts, though evidence suggests that he was more likely to be found robbing the men of Essex.

Appearance in film and television

Several film studios are nearby or were in the 1950s and 1960s, in particular the Elstree Studios, and as a result, Bushey and Bushey Heath have often featured as backdrops in film and television. The critically acclaimed 1957 film Lucky Jim was filmed here (and a scene in the less acclaimed Cannon and Ball film).

Several historic buildings in Bushey, notably the old Royal Masonic School for Boys in The Avenue, have been used in films over a long period of time, including, Nuns on the Run, Out of Bounds, Children of Men and Harry Potter. and also the comedy series Little Britain. It has also been the set for several television series, including Monty Python's Flying Circus and Little Britain. This site is currently being redeveloped for residential usage and the 1960s additions to the site have been demolished.

In the 1960s many of The Avengers episodes include location shots around the Bushey area, and the latter half of the Confessions of a Driving Instructor is entirely shot on the roads between Elstree and Bushey, finishing in the car dump at 'Bushey Breakers'.

Academic buildings in the Bushey area have been used in the filming of BBC's Grange Hill and also for various other programmes, such as Family Business. Students from local schools including Bushey Hall and Bushey Meads have taken part as extras in programmes such as My Dad's the Prime Minister.

Herkomer's Art School

Hubert Herkomer was a poor immigrant from Bavaria who arrived in Bushey in 1874, and ended his life in 1914 as Sir Hubert von Herkomer RA CVO. Herkomer had visited a friend who lived in Bushey in 1873, fell in love with the nearby Bushey Village, then rented a pair of cottages and a studio near Melbourne Road. With his artistic talents, he founded Herkomer's Art School at Bushey in 1883, which, in its 21-year life, attracted some 500 students to the area, some of whom stayed after establishing their own studios. Herkomer is sometimes referred to as 'having founded' Bushey, giving it an artistic reputation and leaving us with the many paintings by his pupils of past life in the town, a lot of which are on display in the Bushey Museum. During his life Bushey became the world centre for the peculiarly British art of Watercolour. A street, Herkomer Road, is named in his honour.

At around 1888, Herkomer built Lululaund, a 'Bavarian castle', which was named after his second wife Lulu Griffiths. Unfortunately, after being married only for a year, she died. Lululaund dominated the Bushey skyline until 1939 when it was demolished; although it is said that it was demolished in fear of the running cost, there is speculation as to whether it was destroyed in a fit of anti-German rage at the start of the Second World War. Only the brick arched portal and the ornamental rose garden remains today;[1][2] a lot of the building was used as hardcore for Bovingdon Airfield, and much of the grand carvings inside the castle were burnt. The inhabitants of Bushey have been bitter about the demolition of the castle ever since; not only is it a beautiful building lost, but it would have stood as a symbol of Bushey's artistic past.

Sir Hubert is mainly remembered as an artist today, but in his time he was a polymath, becoming involved in some of the earliest films made in Europe and starting a series of races and time trials for automobiles in Germany which at their time had the popularity of today's Formula One races.

On Sir Hubert's death leadership of his Art School was taken over by Lucy Kemp-Welch, who became famous for her paintings of horses. The last remnant of an artistic connection in the village is in fact a gallery named in her honour close to the village church. It is more usually used as a Village Hall today, but a recent exhibition there (September 2006) by students from the Chelsea College of Art holds promise that it may revive.

Outside links