C20 public park, woodland and golf course incorporating remaining elements from a C16, C17 and C18 park related to Cassiobury House and gardens, demolished 1927. The landscape around the house, possibly including elements of the remaining park, was worked upon successively by Moses Cook (1672), George London (c 1697), Charles Bridgeman (1720s), Thomas Wright (1739) and Humphry Repton (1801-2).
The manor of Cassiobury, having been owned by the abbey of St Albans prior to the Dissolution, was granted to Sir Richard Morrison (d 1556) in 1546, who probably laid out a deer park and began a new mansion, completed by his son Charles. The property passed by marriage to Arthur Capel, created Lord Capel in 1641, whose son, Arthur, was created Earl of Essex in 1661. The park is first mentioned in 1632 (VCH). Hugh May, the King's architect at Windsor (qv), rebuilt the house in the mid C17, at the same time as Moses Cook (1672) was employed in the gardens. In the 1720s Charles Bridgeman worked on the gardens, as did Thomas Wright c 1739. In 1795 the Grand Union Canal was built, bisecting the park. Much of May's house was demolished c 1799, the remains incorporated within a new building designed by James Wyatt and erected 1800(13, at the same time as Humphry Repton was employed to improve the grounds (1801-2). In 1908 the Earl of Essex sold 75ha of the park for development, the house being sold in 1922 and demolished in 1927, the surrounding area being used for further housing development. Watford Borough Council gradually acquired a large part of the park and woodland during the 1930s, creating a public park east of the canal and a golf course to the west. The area remains (1999) public open space.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Cassiobury Park bounds the western edge of Watford, lying at the eastern edge of the Chiltern Hills. The 300ha site is bounded to the north by The Grove Park parkland and adjacent agricultural land, to the south-west by woodland and agricultural land, to the south by C20 housing development, and to the north-east by the Cassiobury Park estate, an inter-war housing estate of private houses laid out in spacious surrounds. Formerly (before the 1920s) the south-east boundary was marked by Rickmansworth Road, and the east boundary by Hempstead Road. The eastern tip of the park lies largely on level ground; west of the canal the ground rises steeply to the plateau of Jacotts Hill, before descending westwards through Whippendell Wood. The former site of the house lies on a low hillside sloping north-east up from the parkland overlooking Jacotts Hill, the area now being occupied by housing. The setting to the east and south is urban, and to the west and north, rural. Views extend east and south-east from the top of the eastern edge of Jacotts Hill plateau across urban Watford to distant hillsides, including that on which the house formerly stood. Further views extend north from the northern edge of the park across The Grove Park.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The main entrance to the park lies at the south-east corner, adjacent to Rickmansworth Road, formerly the site of the Watford Lodge (now gone). From here the remains of a former drive to the house extend west, flanked by a C20 avenue, and north-west to the park boundary, having formerly continued north to arrive at the forecourt on the west front of the house.
Toll Gate Lodge (formerly Ridge Lane Lodge, early C19, listed grade II) marks a former entrance to the park to the north, on Hempstead Road, the drive, now lost, having extended south-west to the house.
At the southern tip of the site, south of the residential Gade Avenue, a further former entrance is marked by Cassio Bridge Lodge (early C19, listed grade II), a two-storey cottage built in Picturesque style with ornamental timber cladding and a prominent ornamented brick chimney stack. From here a path leads north alongside the east bank of the river into the park. The former drive extended north across the park to join the network of drives leading to the house.
Formerly (OS 1877; 1896) Sparrowpot Lodge (now gone) lay at the north-west corner of the park, adjacent to Grove Mill Lane. This lodge gave access to the north-west drive, still largely extant running through the park as a pedestrian path, which linked Grove Mill Lane with the house standing 1.8km to the south-east. The drive extends south-east across the north-west edge of the park, continuing along a lime avenue on the plateau of Jacotts Hill. The avenue comprises closely planted mature lime trees extending south-east from the east edge of Whippendell Wood. Towards its western end the avenue flanks a graded slope down to the south-east. Eastwards the avenue is aligned on the presumed site of the C17, H-shaped Hugh May house which seems to have stood immediately to the south of the c 1800 Wyatt house (OS 1877). This view however is largely obscured by tree growth. From the east end of the avenue the drive descends the slope leading to the Grand Union Canal and River Gade. The drive is carried across the Canal via a brick bridge adjacent to Iron Bridge Lock, and across the river via a late C20 bridge, turning north-east and shortly arriving at the present park boundary. Formerly it continued east and south-east past the south side of the stables to arrive at the west front of the house.
Further pedestrian entrances lie scattered around the park boundary. Several further carriage drive entrances with lodges (now gone) formerly gave access from Rickmansworth Road (including along the course of what is now Shepherd's Road) and Hempstead Road.
James Wyatt's gothick house (1800-13), incorporating parts of the C17 house by Hugh May on the site of a C16 building, stood c 600m east of Iron Bridge Lock, surrounded by gardens, and with pleasure grounds lying to the north and east. Adjacent to the north of the site of the house (outside the area here registered), stands Cassiobury Court (1805-15, listed grade II), the former stables to Cassiobury Park House. A brick, two-storey castellated range is approached from the west via a four-centred arched carriage gateway set into a brick screen wall. The building, converted to institutional accommodation, is now entirely surrounded by C20 housing.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The former gardens surrounded the house, lying at the eastern edge of the park, with the pleasure grounds extending north and east from the gardens. At the beginning of the C18 (Knyff and Kip 1707, published 1714) Hugh May's H-shaped house was bounded on two sides by formal parterres, probably laid out by Moses Cook or George London (d 1714), with groves of woodland through which extended formal avenues. Charles Bridgeman (d 1738) was employed in the 1720s and in 1801-2 Humphry Repton (1752-1818) reformed Moses Cook's overgrown formal garden into loose plantations, retaining a straight gravel walk near the house (Carter et al 1982).
Of the garden, the only remaining structure is a mid to late C16 brick gateway (altered c 1830, listed grade II, standing outside the area here registered) with a Tudor-arched doorway and flanked by brick walls. Various mature specimen trees survive scattered in the gardens of the estate houses.
The park is divided into three main sections, the easternmost being a public park overlaid in the early C20, bounded to the north and south by C20 housing development and to the west by the River Gade and Grand Union Canal, these running roughly parallel from north to south through the park. The public park retains mature parkland specimen trees scattered throughout, with C20 scattered tree planting, and is dominated by two C20 avenues extending north-west from the former Watford Lodge entrance. The northernmost avenue, flanking a path, is aligned on the canal bridge lying immediately south of Iron Bridge Lock, 1.6km north-west of the Watford Lodge entrance. The southern avenue follows the course of the old drive from the Watford Lodge to the house. Various C20 facilities including paddling pools, tennis courts, a bowling green and various pavilions, are sited towards the southern edge of this section.
The second, central section of the park overlies the elevated area of Jacotts Hill and is bounded to the east by the river and Canal which lie at the bottom of the steep slope east down Jacotts Hill. It is bounded to the west by Whippendell Wood and Rousebarn Lane. The West Hertfordshire Golf Course occupies the majority of the area, except for the northern end bounding Grove Mill Lane which is largely farmland. The area contains large open areas laid to grass divided by sections of woodland. West Hertfordshire Golf Club clubhouse lies at the southern tip, built in the mid C20. The area is dominated by the remains of two C17/C18 avenues which intersect c 400m north-west of the Iron Bridge Lock. The northernmost avenue flanks the former north-west drive, and comprises closely planted mature lime trees extending north-west across the plateau of the hill to the east edge of Whippendell Wood.
Some 400m north-west of the Iron Bridge Lock the remains of a second avenue extend south from the east/west avenue, running roughly parallel to the edge of the slope down to the canal and river to the east. A path is flanked by the remains of the avenue trees, these in turn largely flanked by immature woodland, with several of the large mature limes of the avenue remaining, seemingly the remains of widely spaced avenue trees. Occasional views extend west beyond the hill. Woodland on the slope to the east contains many mature sweet chestnut trees, some of great age.
In the later C19 (OS 1877) these two avenues were mostly complete, the north/south avenue extending north beyond the intersection with the east/west avenue. They were flanked by open parkland planted with specimen trees, possibly containing the remains of further formal planting.
The third parkland section, Whippendell Wood, occupies the western slopes of Jacotts Hill, the land levelling out towards the western boundary. The woodland is traversed by many paths, one extending north-west from the west end of the avenue traversing Jacotts Hill from west to east. In the mid C18 a network of straight rides crossed the Wood, which was entered from the park via the west/east avenue (Dury and Andrews, 1766).
The former kitchen garden lay east of the site of the house. It was demolished in the 1920s/30s and the site developed for housing.
L Knyff and J Kip, Britannia Illustrata 1, (1714)
J Britton, History and Description of Cassiobury Park (1837)
Country Life, 28 (17 September 1910), pp 392-400; 178 (3 October 1985), pp 956-7
D Stroud, Humphry Repton (1962), p 122
G Carter et al, Humphry Repton (1982), p 154
Watford Museum, A Fair and Large House; Cassiobury Park 1546-1927 (1985)
Dury and Andrews, A topographical Map of Hartford-shire, 1766
A plan of Cassiobury Park, late C18 (Hertfordshire Record Office)
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1864-5, published 1877
2nd edition published 1896
3rd edition published 1920
OS 25" to 1 mile: 2nd edition published 1898
Description written: January 1999
Register Inspector: SR
Edited: October 2000