Bushey (population 24,000) is a town in the Hertsmere borough of Hertfordshire in the East of England. Bushey Heath is a large neighbourhood south east of Bushey on the boundary with the London Borough of Harrow reaching elevations of above sea level.
The first written record of Bushey is an account in the Domesday Book, which describes a small agricultural village named 'Bissei' (which later became ‘Biss(h)e’ and then ‘Bisheye’ during the 12th century). However, chance archaeological findings of Stone Age tools provide evidence that the area was inhabited as far back as the Palaeolithic period. The town also has links to the Roman occupation of Britain, with the main road running through it being Roman; sites of possible Roman villas being unearthed in the area; and a Roman tessellated pavement was discovered near Chiltern Avenue.
The origin of the town’s name is not fully known. With the original name ‘Bissei’, an early theory in Reverend J.B. Johnstone’s book The Place-Names of England and Wales states that it may have meant ‘Byssa’s Isle’, and that it started life as a lake-village surrounded by marshes, streams and lakes. However, a more modern theory (albeit a less romantic one) is that it is simply derived from the Old English word bysce and Old French boisseie, meaning a ‘place covered with wood’. The latter theory could prove 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.
Bushey Heath’s story begins in the Napoleonic Wars during a large food shortage. 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. Whilst the aim was to produce food from the difficult clay soil, being close to a railway and up to 500 feet above sea level with beautiful and broad views made the area attractive.
The 19th and 20th centuries marked the time of most change in Bushey, especially between 1860-1960 CE. 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 Metropolitan Green Belt legislation was also partly responsible for the abandonment of the pre-war Edgware to Bushey Heath extension as part of the Northern Heights programme of the Northern Line underground railway. The Metropolitan 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 (of Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday fame), 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.
The highest point in the historic county of Middlesex was in Bushey Heath on the border between Hertfordshire and Middlesex at the junction of the A4140 and the A409. At 153 metres or 502 feet above sea level the grid reference was TQ 152937.
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 even 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 caravans 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 they didn’t have to venture through the pass alone. Although one of the highwaymen responsible for the attacks is rumoured to have been the notorious Dick Turpin, evidence suggests that he was in fact more active in the region of Essex.