Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Croxley Script

Sometimes I wish I was more inclined to write uncomplicated, diary-esque posts, because so often when I sit down at a blank NQS page what I have in mind is too long for one entry, and probably of very little interest to anyone else. Like this one...

A couple of years back I met up with my old buddy Ric and we cycled around some haunts of our youth...

River Gade at Croxley, near Watford, in October 2016

As a boy I would catch the Met Line train from Preston Road station and get off at Croxley Green. A short walk down a gravelly lane led to the Grand Union Canal, and over a bridge was the River Gade. The little weir pool pictured above was a favourite spot, and in 1972 I caught a 12oz roach here, trotting a float along the far bank. Bait was silkweed, which we pulled off the face of the weir and wrapped around the hook. A few small roach were usually up for it, but that three-quarter pounder was my biggest by far. Also on offer in this stretch of the river were gudgeon, the odd perch, some modest chub, very rarely over 2lb, and the occasional surprise, like a crucian carp or bream. To us kids it was fishy heaven, and there was healthy competition for the best swims. Every weekend the river was lined with young lads. Quietly contemplating the scene in my mind's eye brings it back so clearly...

Anyway, just recently I came across a website called Britain from Above, which specialises in old aerial photographs, and out of curiosity I entered 'Croxley' into the search box. Would there be any photos dating from the years I fished there? Nothing that recent, but there was this...

This photo was taken in 1953   (link: www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EAW048397)   ©Historic England

The photo is dominated by the John Dickinson Paper Mill (ever heard of 'Croxley Script' paper?) which was demolished around 1982. In my day it was still a bustling place, and every morning a proportion of the workforce would arrive via the canal bridge, and then along the river to the point where it seemingly disappears in the middle of the photo; just here was a pedestrian gateway and security office. The river was off-limits beyond this point, the spiky fence along the edge of Croxley Common Moor marking the works boundary. The weir in question is visible half-way along the river.

When I came across this pic I was amazed at how little had apparently changed by the early '70s. So much is exactly as I remember it! Even the massive heap of coal between the river and the canal lock was still a feature.

My next job was to see if Google could show me what it looks like now, and of course to make a collage...

Slightly different perspectives but almost exactly the same view, separated by about 65 years.

Visiting the area with Ric was as you might expect. There's enough there to help you picture the scene as it was, but the nostalgic sadness at what's gone is visceral. I guess it's recognising that it isn't just the physical place that is irretrievable, but also the younger you.


Anyway, as I say, that old photo brought it all streaming back. In fact I was able to revisit one particular memory with incredible accuracy. An occasion of unparalleled angling triumph that played itself out one June day in 1973. But that's for another post...


  1. C'mon Gav, more posts please. Don't be a stranger...

    1. The intention is there Steve, but sometimes not the muse. I think I need more gulls :)

  2. Those were the days Gav.
    I remember how the mill simply discharged paper washings straight into the river. Everything seemed coated in pinky slimy goo and due to being warm water, in winter created a vision like none other.

    1. Yes Ric, I remember that slimy goo. It discharged periodically, and would cover your keepnet in a loathsome, pappy skin which was crisp and slightly translucent when dry. Yuk.

  3. Very much an integral place in my childhood. Wandering the canal towpath between Roses Lime-juice at Two Waters, through Apsley, passing the John Dickinson paper mill, complete with the warm water outflow, on through Kings Langley headed down towards Hunton Bridge and the widened area where the canal barges could be turned around. Usually with airgun or catapult, sometimes with a fishing rod strapped to my bike. Happy memories of a wonderful part of my childhood - cheers for the reminder. All the best - Dyl

    1. Cheers Dyl. I think the Apsley mill survived a fair bit longer than the one at Croxley, but also is now long gone of course. Some of the ex-Croxley workers became my colleagues at the Kodak plant in Wealdstone. That too is gone, and rapidly being covered with houses. About 4,500 people worked there when I started in 1979...

    2. Not many buildings in both pictures Gav. Plenty more trees I note.

      Remember the river behind the mill which jumped the fence to fish? Well, it can be accessed easily from the new industrial estate.
      Quite a shock to see that bridge which lorries rumbled over at the far end, and the spot where I caught my first ever Carp.
      I'll get some pics.