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Updated: 30 August, 2017
The Parish Church of
St Matthew Oxhey
Fr David Shepherd
Monastic Dissolution and The Witchfinder
The land passed to King Henry VIII on the Dissolution of the monasteries. Sir James
Altham, a judge and Baron of the Exchequer to Elizabeth I and James I, eventually
bought it in 1604. In 1612, he built Oxhey Chapel; the same year in which he, together
with Sir Edward Bromley, presided at the trial of ninteen notorious witches at Lancaster
Castle. Nine were condemned to death by hanging, including Old Demdike and Old Chattox.
The case was famously dramatised in 'The Lancashire Witches' written in 1680 by the
Restoration playwright Thomas Shadwell (1642?-1692).
The New Parish of Oxhey
In the nineteenth century, the estate was divided and in 1879 the new administrative
district of Oxhey was carved out of three older government areas, Watford, Northwood
and Bushey, with most of the land coming from Bushey. The new Parishes Act, the Peel
Acts, were passed in 1843. These Acts authorized new Church of England parishes if
the population of the parish was at least 4,000. Half the seats in the church had
to be free. In 1880, the London Gazette stated that 'the Queen's most excellent Majesty
in Council' agreed to the new parish of Oxhey being established. St Matthews' first
vicar, Newton Price, was appointed in 1880.
All Saints - a separate parish
In 1944, the London County Council acquired the land around Oxhey Place for housing,
including Oxhey Chapel. The first council tenants attended St Alphage, a daughter
church of St Matthew's in Carpenders Park, but soon All Saints church was built for
the South Oxhey Estate, replacing St Alphage. It was sited to the north of Oxhey
Chapel and was consecrated in 1953.
In 1960, All Saints became a separate parish, serving both the South Oxhey Estate
and Carpenders Park. The original All Saints building had to be demolished, because
it contained dangerous quantities of asbestos. Following an extensive fund-raising
campaign a new multi-purpose church centre was erected during the year 2000. The
church building is open throughout the day on every weekday to welcome and help any
member of the community and a lunchtime 'drop in', provides refreshments. In addition,
there is the work of ASCEND (All Saints Centre for Employment and New Directions)
which is a limited company with charitable status formed in 1998, working in the
fields of homelessness and skills development. The charity is legally separate from
the church, but is the tenant of several rooms in the church complex.
The first historical reference to Oxhey comes from the time that it was in the south-east
corner of the kingdom of Mercia. King Offa II of Mercia (757-796) traditionally founded
the Benedictine Abbey of St Albans. He gave the district of Oxengehaege to the Abbey,
it was rumoured, in expiation for a murder for which he felt responsible. The monks
ran it as a grange on which, mainly the lay brothers, worked to provide food, fodder
and firing for the Mother church. For a time the land was seized by 'wicked men',
but in 1007 Æthelred the Unready restored it to the then abbot, Leofric, and built
a new monastery chapel to replace one which was in ruins following a Viking raid.
The monks are believed to have built the first bridge over the Colne, in what is
now the Watford's Lower High Street, so that they could transport produce more easily
to St Albans. In later mediaeval times, the land was farmed by tenants of the Abbot.
A Cartulary (a set of official records) of about 1390, in the hands of Chatsworth
trustees, relates to St Albans' property and mentions Oxhey.