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An idyllic pond scene in Watford's Cassiobury Park
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A splendid vista of English greenery, Cassiobury Park was once the estate of the Earls of Essex, as restored by Charles II. It is now administered by Watford Borough Council, offering a variety of natural habitats on either side of the Grand Union Canal for sporting and leisure pursuits. A mixture of flowerbeds, shrubberies and meadowland, the park is a haven for cycle riders, locals and visitors alike to escape the urban hustle and bustle.

Over 900 years ago, in 1100, Cassiobury was mentioned in the Domesday Book, as land belonging to St Albans' Abbey. When some 400 years later Henry VIII demanded the dissolution of the monasteries, he made himself Lord of the Manor of Cassiobury. Six years later, in 1545, he sold the land to Richard Morrison, whose large mansion was finished by his son Charles. Over 100 years later, with the estate having passed into the Capel family through marriage, the then-Lord Capel was executed in 1649 as a loyalist to Charles 1. Only after the Restoration was his eldest son, Arthur, able to reclaim the estate, when he was created Earl of Essex.

As well as developing the park by introducing many exotic trees, Arthur commisioned Hugh May to rebuild the house, incorporating the original North West wing. Ironically, in 1687, the Earl was arrested and taken to the tower for plotting to assassinate Charles II; in July he was discovered with his throat cut . . .

Another 150 years and, in 1800, the fifth Earl oversaw James Wyatt's remodelling of the house, but a century further on, in 1902, the writing was on the wall, as the family moved out owing to the expensive upkeep of the building. Seven years later the eighth Earl sold 184 acres of parkland, of which Watford Council bought most for both housing and public parkland.

In 1927 the house was demolished, although the grand staircase, designed by Gibbons, was rebuilt in all its glory in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, while other materials were used to restore Monmouth house in Watford High Street. The final ignominy was 40 years later, when the entrance gates were demolished to make way for the widening of Rickmansworth Road, although in 2004 a campaign has been unveiled to rebuild them.

Content provided by Frommers Unlimited, copyright © 2014:
Whatsonwhen Ltd, John Wiley & Sons, Inc

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