Watford ( or ) is a town and borough in Hertfordshire, England, situated northwest of central London and inside the circumference of the M25 motorway. Now a fine public park, Cassiobury Park, was once the manor estate of the Earls of Essex. Watford Football Club play in the Football League Championship which is the second-highest level of football in England.
The town developed from an Anglo-Saxon settlement between a ford of the River Colne and the crossroads of two ancient tracks. St Albans Abbey claimed rights to the manor of Cashio, which included Watford. The parish church of St Mary the Virgin was built in 1230 on the same site as an earlier Saxon church, along with stalls for a weekly market. The town grew modestly - assisted by travellers passing through to Berkhamsted Castle and the royal palace at Kings Langley, with the main developments being the 17th-century houses of Cassiobury and The Grove. Both the Grand Junction Canal in 1798, and the London and Birmingham Railway in 1837, allowed the town to grow faster, with paper-making mills, such as John Dickinson and Co. at Croxley, influencing the development of printing in the town which continues today. Two industrial scale brewers Benskins and Sedgwicks flourished in the town until their closure in the late 20th century. Today, Watford is a major regional centre for the northern home counties. Hertfordshire County Council designates Watford, along with Stevenage, to be its major sub-regional centre. The town contains the head offices of a number of national companies such as J D Wetherspoon; Camelot Group, operator of the National Lottery; construction firm Taylor Woodrow; and Mothercare; and is also the UK base of various multi-nationals including Total Oil, TK Maxx, and Costco. The international golf tournament, the 2006 World Golf Championship, took place at the Grove hotel.
Watford was created as an urban district under the Local Government Act 1894, and became a municipal borough by grant of a charter in 1922. The borough had 90,301 inhabitants at the time of the 2011 census. The borough is separated from Greater London to the south by the urbanised parish of Watford Rural in the Three Rivers District. The Watford subdivision of the Greater London Urban Area, which includes much of the neighbouring districts, had a total population of 120,960 in the 2001 census. Watford Borough Council is the local authority, with a directly elected mayor as head. The Mayor of Watford is one of only 17 directly elected mayors in England; Dorothy Thornhill has been the mayor since the directly elected system was set up in May 2002, and is both the first Liberal Democrat and first female directly elected mayor in the United Kingdom. Watford elects one Member of Parliament (MP) for the Watford constituency. Prior to the establishment of this constituency in 1885 the area was part of the three seat constituency of Hertfordshire.