The Industrial History of Broxbourne





The River Lee is still a Navigation rather than a canal although the whole length south of Dobbs Wier has been canalised. Some of the original flash locks were converted to pound locks at an early date to ease the water shortage problems on the river.

With the large number of mill sites on the river there was always competition for water. Operating a flash lock used a vast amount of water that was then lost to the millers. The problem became a crisis in the Napoleonic wars when the Royal Gunpowder works at Waltham Abbey were at peak production.


The main line up the valley was opened by the Northern and Eastern Counties Railway company as far as Broxbourne in 1840, with stations at Cheshunt and Waltham Cross. The Act had been obtained in 1836, and approved a 5' gauge line. The line was converted to standard gauge when it was taken over by the Eastern Counties Railway in 1844.

The branch line to Hertford from Broxbourne was opened in 1843.

The Churchbury loop ( now referred to as the Southbury Loop ) was opened between Edmonton and Cheshunt in 1890, with a station at Theobalds. The line did not attract the expected traffic and passenger trains ceased in October 1905. The line remained open for freight. On 16th Nov 1960 the passenger service resumed with new electric trains. The main valley line was not electrified until 1968.

The line from Cuffley to Kings Cross, which just cuts the west of the Borough was opened in 1910, and extended to Hertford in 1918.

The Cheshunt Suspension Railway

In June 1825 the worlds 2nd monorail suspension railway was opened between Mr Gibbs Brick Pit, west of Gews Corner in Cheshunt High Street, and the Lee Navigation. It was designed by William Palmer who had built the first of it's kind in the Arsenal at Woolwich.

The line crossed the London to Cambridge main road using a section of track hinged like a gate so it could be moved off the road. It is not known how long the railway operated.

Extractive Industry

The extractive industries existed in two distinct phases. All the early development was for brick and tile production while the sand and gravel was later and on a much larger scale.


The brick clay was extracted from the western edge of the valley floor, above the gravel beds.

Terraccota Works, Broxbourne

This firm was founded in 1845 by James Pulham a local plasterer. The factory was ornate being built from mock decorated Elizabethan bricks.

The firm built up a good reputation, working on rock gardens and churches. Their customers included London Zoo and Sandringham and they obtained a Royal Warrent. They moved into making urns when cremation was introduced.

The firm was continued by James's son and grandson but closed in the late 1930's. The site is owned by Broxbourne Council and although the factory has gone one clay grinding mill and a kiln are preserved.


Almost the whole of the floor of the valley has been excavated for sand and gravel. Some of the higher pits have been used for landfill but most have been left as flooded lagoons. These are now exploited for recreation in the Lea Vally Regional Park and provide wildlife habitat.

Horticultural Industry

The glass house industry developed in Cheshunt because there were ample supplies of underground water and it was in horse and cart range of Covent Garden. Many of the original firms moved out from closer to London in the 1880's to avoid the sububan growth. The expansion of the industry was helped by the Mayo family selling the land of Andrews Manor to the new nursery firms.

The industry started in 1806 when Mr Adam Paul opened a nursery in Churchgate. He moved to High Street, Cheshunt in 1839 and this became known as "The Old Nursery". The family was best known as rose growers. In 1860 his son George Paul moved to start Royal Nurseries, south of Trinity Lane in Waltham Cross.

The main crops for the area were cucumbers and tomatoes although flowers and house plants were also produced. The industry peaked in the 1920's when Cheshunt had the largest percentage of its area under glass than anywhere else in the world - and was in the Guiness Book of Records. The total Lea Valley Industry was in an area 10 miles long and 8 miles wide.

The larger nurseries included those of the Pollard, Stevens, Sandberg and Bjorklund families.

Although some nurseries closed before WW2 the major decline was in the 1960's. Even by 1967 a quater of the British Isles glass houses were still in the area and 2000 people were employed.

Increasing fuel prices and international competition in the 1970's forced most of the nursery's to close.

Joseph Rochfords and Sons Ltd

Founded in the late 19th centuary and moved to Cheshunt in the 1880's. They developed both the nursery, workers housing and a social club. The site was eventually about half a mile square, with the A10 arterial road on the west and the railway on the east.

In the 1960's & 1970's they specialised in house plants and were possibly the largest firm of growers in the world.

Experimental Station

The experimental station opened in 1914, in Turners Hill, Cheshunt and the main lab building still remains. The site became the main packing station and headquaters of the Lea Valley Growers Association.

The station was enlarged in 1923. It was here that Cheshunt rooting compound.was developed.

The station moved to a new site in Littlehampton in 1954, following the change in location of the nursery industry itself.

Lea Valley Growers Association

This was founded in 1911 and operated a co-operative supply and marketing scheme for the local nurseries. Nursery Trades Ltd was started at the same time to carry out the commercial activities. The British Glasshouse Marketing association followed in 1922. In 1938 a separate Transport Association was formed.



There were town gas works at Waltham Cross and Hoddesdon.

The Cheshunt and Waltham Abbey Gas Company was formed in 1843, the Waltham Cross works probably dates from 1850. The company was taken over by the Tottenham and District Gas Co in 1929. The Waltham Cross site was only used as a holder station after the large works at Ponders End was opened.

The Hoddesdon Works opened in 1837 and was taken over by the Tottenham and District Gas Company in 1932. A gas works was on the St Catherines Estate, on the site of East Lodge. It was opened in 1847. This was replaced by a new works between Spital Brook and the railway in 1886. This site had become a holder station by the early 1960's.


The "New River" was primarily built to supply London but the New River Company provided water to the local area as well. Although the start of the 'river' is north of the Borough there are several borehole pumping stations in the area.

At Cheshunt there are two small reservoirs and a supply pumping station that takes water from the New River.


The power station at Rye House, Hoddesdon, was built in the 1930's to a design by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. In the 1950's gas turbine sets were installed and the station continued in use for peak load standby until the late 1970's. The site was cleared in the 1980's and a new gas powered station of Siemens design was built in the 1990's.

( Note that the 'Waltham Cross' Supergrid Switching Station is actually in Nazing, Essex. )

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© 1998 Chris Hicks, Cheshunt & Rugby
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