Located in the Three Rivers District of Hertfordshire, on the north western edge of the county of Greater London, lies the former market town of Rickmansworth. The name Rickmansworth is derived from a combination of the Saxon name “Ryckmer”, the local magnate, and the word “worth”, which meant a farm or stockade. Most English towns and villages have some sort of history but the history of Rickmansworth is certainly one of the more fascinating, stretching right back to the eighth century!
On this page, we will examine so me elements of the administrative and economic history of the town from its origins until the present day.
Rickmansworth has an interesting history of ownership and administration. It is said that King Offa of Mercia, who ruled between 757 and 796 first granted the Manor of Rickmansworth to The Abbey of St Albans. The town, under the tongue-tying name of Prichemaresworde, was later mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086. It was considered to be a Crown Manor and its stewardship changed hands on several occasions over the ensuing years. It was variously owned by Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth I, Henry, Prince of Wales and the trustees of Charles, Prince of Wales and leased on to a variety of tenants. Rickmansworth ceased to be a Crown property following the accession to the throne of Charles I. At his time, there began a lengthy period of private ownership by the Fotherley family, which ended only on the death of Henry Fotherley Whitfield in 1813.
Interestingly, Cardinal Wolsey, in his capacity as Abbot of St Albans, held the Manor of le More in Rickmansworth between 1520 and 1530.
By 1851, the Parish of Rickmansworth, which consisted of Croxley Green, Moor Park, Batchworth, Mill End, West Hyde and Chorleywood, had a recorded population of four thousand eight hundred people, which has grown steadily since then as the town has increased in size.
Moving further forward in time, Rickmansworth is presently administered by the Three Rivers District Council, which is named after the three local rivers, the Colne, the Chase and the Gade.
Notwithstanding its modern developments, the town still has an historic core, with buildings such as the Bury Manor House, a number of properties of timber frame construction and The Old Vicarage, parts of which date back to the middle of the 15th century.
The three rivers mentioned above and the Grand Union Canal formed the basis of Rickmansworth’s early, quite romantic, economic history. The town had a thriving watercress trade, for which the rivers provided the necessary water supply. Corn milling, silk weaving, the manufacture of paper and brewing were also trades undertaken by the town’s artisans during the early years of its development.
Additional industries that grew up in later years were leather tanning, the manufacture of soft drinks, soya bean processing, laundry works, stocking manufacture and straw plaiting. Many trades were centred on and around the banks of the Grand Union Canal and it was for this reason that, in 1862, a single track railway line connecting Rickmansworth to Watford was opened by Lord Ebury, with interchange sidings being provided adjacent to the canal.
Sadly, the railway was never destined to be a financial success, with the Official Receiver being called in when it had been open for only four years. Although the primary aim was that the railway would benefit Rickmansworth’s economy, it was, in fact, Watford that derived the greatest benefit.
One particular feather in Rickmansworth’s cap is that the gravel for the construction of the original Wembley Stadium was supplied from the quarries that now make up the lakes in the Rickmansworth Aquadrome, the town’s popular Local Nature Reserve and leisure spot.
The town now has a variety of manufacturing companies and service industries, in addition to commercial offices and other corporate premises. Due to its geographical location, the town also acts as a commuter base for residents who work in London. Shops, pubs and restaurants aplenty serve the town and its locality.
Few towns can boast as colourful a history as Rickmansworth. For anyone interested in looking further into the past of this old Hertfordshire market town, The Three Rivers Museum, which is itself housed in the former residence of William Penn on Rickmansworth High Street, is certainly worth a visit the next time you are in town.