The Haunted Hunt
The estate of The Grove has long links with Cassiobury. The families of the next-door estates were friends and sometimes intermarried. On stormy nights a ghostly fox hunt is said to take place all around the grounds of what is now an upmarket hotel. It is the eternal punishment of Lord Doneraile, who converted the ancient chapel in the basement the mansion into a kitchen when he built the house.
The political sway of the Earl of Essex meant that the railway did not go through the estate of Cassiobury. The route the railway did take included a tunnel through part of an old churchyard near Watford- upsetting the dead residents. During work on the tunnel, coffins mysteriously fell open and human remains tumbled onto the workers below. The trouble did not end when the tunnel was completed and several drivers were seriously burned by unexpected blow-backs at the very point the line cut through the churchyard.
The Fig Tree Tomb
The Fig Tree Tomb in St Mary’s Churchyard was a popular tourist attraction in Victorian times. The legend goes that the lady buried in the tomb was an atheist. To settle the argument once and for all, she asked that something be buried with her that could germinate if their was life after death and grow out of her heart to prove the existence of God. In time, a fig tree grew out of the tomb and dislodged the lid- a strange sight indeed. The tomb drew crowds to the graveyard, who often took a twig as a souvenir. The fig tree has long since gone, but the tomb and the legend remains.
Body-snatching in Watford
Watford was notorious for body-snatching in the Nineteenth Century. The wicked trade was rife as a lot of money could be made from robbing bodies from graves and selling them on for use in medical research. Watford was an important stop for stage coaches on their way to and from London. It was thought that bodies were dug up in Watford’s graveyards to send on. Grieving relatives would go to great lengths to protect their loved ones. Graves were marked and watched for several days and even nights until it was thought decomposition would stop the removal of the body. This watching generally resorted to by the poor, as the better off could afford to have a slab of oak laid on the top of the coffin, secured by crosspieces of wood, let into holes made in the sides of the graves.
One local legend tells of the ‘Rose and Crown’ Hotel in Watford. A large parcel was left at the hotel by two strangers, who gave directions for it to be sent on to London by the stage-coach calling in the evening. It was placed on a table in the public room, where it soon attracted the attention of the landlord’s dogs. A customer hinted that the parcel could be suspicious and should be opened immediately. Loathed as she was to unwrap the parcel, the landlady eventually did and all were horrified to find it contained the body of a young girl, later identified as Eliza Smith of the Rookery. She had been hamstrung to fit her body into as small a space as possible.