The name Chorleywood is derived from the two Saxon words ‘Cerola Leah’ meaning a clearing or meadow in the forest, an early indication of the importance of the Common even at that time. By 1278 the name had been changed to the Norman Bosco de Cherle (Peasant’s Wood) and by 1524 it had become Charlewoode. Phonetic pronunciation led to the spelling Charleywood until the present name was adopted by the Urban District Council in 1913.
Although Chorleywood has kept abreast of the times, its origins can be traced back to prehistory. Local flint in abundance was ideal material from which Palaeolithic and Neolithic man fashioned his implements, examples of which have often been found in local woods, fields and gardens.
Amongst other Roman finds, two possible villa sites (circa 60AD) have been discovered in the area and excavations in the Chess Valley (right) have revealed the site of a Roman water mill and brewing complex. Unfortunately, the most likely site of the associated villa is now buried under the M25 motorway.
The first main settlers were Saxons, the Chess Valley being the centre of their community. The river now known as the Chess and originally called the Pichelsburnae (the mousehawk stream), was named the Isen by the Saxons but later became the Lowdewater and by 1805, the Chesham Stream. During the Saxon period Chorleywood formed part of the Manor of Prichemareswarde (Rickmansworth) which was given to the Monastery of St. Albans by Offa, King of Mercia, over the seal of Edward the Confessor. Shire Lane was the boundary between Wessex and Mercia.
The Middle Ages
In the late medieval times Chorleywood remained very small and even as late as the year 1700 the population constituted only about 40 tenant farmers. The Manor remained in the hands of the Monastery of St. Albans until the Dissolution when it passed to the Bishopric of London, subsequently to be reclaimed for the Crown by Elizabeth.The Manorial rights were eventually acquired by Henry Batty who gave his rights to The Common to the then Chorleywood Urban District Council. These have now passed in succession to the Parish Council. The present road structure came into being with the passing of the first Turnpike Act in 1663. Use of the Reading to Hatfield road (now the A404) required payment of a turnpike charge at the Chorleywood Tollgate, a site recalled in the names of the Gate Inn and Tollgate Cottage (above right). In the 18th century the road became known as the Gout Track being habitually used by the Marquis of Salisbury to travel between Hatfield and Cheltenham or Bath to take the waters.
In the late 17th century Non-conformism came to Chorleywood. Baptists met at Blacketts whilst King John’s Farm (left) was used as a meeting house for Quakers. It was here that William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, married Guilelma Springett in 1672. After the marriage Penn lived in Basing House in Rickmansworth but attended services at Meeting House Farm, then the Chorleywood Manor House. There is a small Quaker cemetery in the grounds of the Manor House.
Throughout the centuries the main occupation in Chorleywood was agriculture and its allied trades but in the 18th and early part of the 19th century there were two mills. Soles Mill, bought by George Andrews in 1746, was a pioneering paper mill which expanded into print. When it changed hands in 1887 it employed 35 workers, many of whom worked a six day week of 12 hours a day. Loudwater Mill was certainly in existence in 1805 and was eventually bought by Herbert Ingram, the owner of the London Illustrated News. Both mill houses are in use today as residences.
One of the more remarkable episodes in local history took place in 1846 when Fergus O’Conner, a barrister, Member of Parliament and Chartist Leader, purchased Heronsgate Farm and renamed it “O’Connorville : Land of Peace and Plenty”. With money raised by subscription, he intended to resettle families from the industrial north on parcels of land which they could farm to support themselves. Having no knowledge of cultivation the settlers failed miserably. Some almost starved whilst others returned home destitute. O’Conner would not allow alcohol to be sold in his land of peace and plenty so an Inn was built on adjoining land and was called “The Land of Liberty”.
Although still only a chapelry in Rickmansworth Parish, by the 1860’s Chorleywood had a population of 939 and a total of 208 houses. The Church was described in a local gazetteer as “ very good” and the living was a curacy in the Diocese of Rochester, later to be transferred to St. Albans. As the 19th century advances, the Metropolitan Railway was extended, first to Rickmansworth and then to Chorleywood and beyond. Thus “Metroland”, so beloved by John Betjeman, was born. “I would like to be a station master on a small country branch line (single track)”. Today, served by fast trains to Baker Street and Marylebone, Chorleywood has a population of 11,062 (1998 census).