Watford’s aristocratic past: Everyone invited to Archaeological Dig Open Day

There will be a FREE ‘Archaeological Dig Open Day’ in Watford’s Cassiobury Park on Saturday, and everyone is invited.

Published: Thursday, 16th June 2016

The event will run from 11am to 3pm and marks the penultimate day of two weeks of excavation to investigate the site of the park’s demolished Georgian Swiss Cottage.

The open day, organised by SW Herts Archaeological & Historical Society, will allow people to learn more about the site, talk to archaeologists and see the uncovered artefacts. Plus there will be tours of the trenches dug during the excavation, an art exhibition, family activities and the opportunity to learn more about the history of the park.

The ‘Swiss’ cottage and grounds were used for picnics and parties for the Earl of Essex’s family and friends and included a small museum. School groups were also allowed to use the building. Part of the cottage and the smaller building nearby were lived in rent-free by estate staff and their families.

It is not known when the cottage was built, but the 5th Earl of Essex started extensive refurbishments to Cassiobury House and Park from about 1800. This included building various cottages in the fashionable rustic style known as ‘cottage orné’ – popular in the late 18th and early 19th century during the Romantic period.

The cottage was just off Gade Avenue, near the River Gade. It was burnt down in the 1940s and was ultimately demolished. The original Cassiobury House was demolished in 1927, so a suburban housing development could be built around the new Watford Tube Station, serving the expanded Met line.

Elected Mayor of Watford Dorothy Thornhill said: “Cassiobury Park is the jewel in Watford’s Crown. The council bought the majority of the park between 1908 and 1913, and we’ve kept it in tip top condition ever since. We love it there, and there’s so much history to learn about. Do join us for a fantastic, enjoyable and educational day out!”

Retired volunteer Ian Freeman, from Watford, said: “I’ve been interested in archaeology for ages, but this is the first time I’ve actually had a go at it myself. It’s absolutely fascinating. Finding a stove here was the highlight. I am very keen to get involved in future archaeology projects now, but you have to be very careful and record everything – it’s painstaking work!”

The excavation of the Georgian Swiss Cottage has been directed by Keevill Heritage Ltd and funded by Watford Borough Council from a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If you would like more information about the dig before the open day, please contact Laurie Elvin at laurencedelvin@gmail.com.

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