This overview of the history of the village is largely the work of a previous Chairman of KLLH&MS, the late Frank Davies.
This article took its theme from the "Langley Times" because some 50 years ago that was the title of the village newspaper. Here, then, are the headlines we might have seen in a such a journal over the centuries.
[Note: The name of the village is derived from the lange lea or long water meadow by the river. Various forms have been used over the centuries —Langelei or Childes Langele, Langley Cheynyduit or Langley Regis. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was referred to as Chilternlangley. Our Langley had to have an addition to its name to distinguish it from other Langleys, notably Abbots Langley.]
Way back 2000 years ago, the headline might well have read - "Roman Legion chooses Langley riverside site for new Villa", for, as part of a series of dwellings at approximately 10 mile intervals on the road from London to Aylesbury, a Roman Villa was established on the area now known as Roman Gardens. Evidence of that occupation was only discovered in June 1981 when the Kings Langley Football Club field alongside the canal was sold for housing development. One Thousand years later the prestige of having a Roman Villa in the area had vanished and so, at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086, the only items here of note were "two mills worth 16 shillings" and "sufficient meadow for three plough teams" and "woodland to feed 240 swine", giving a total value to the place of just 40 shillings!
All this changed dramatically though some 200 years later, for in 1276, the newspaper headline would undoubtedly have been "Queen Buys Land at Langelei Chenduit to Establish Royal Park". Things must have moved quickly here after that - in 1277 500 ash trees were taken from Langley to provide for works at the Tower of London and in 1282 King Edward I ordered that a white doe and five white Roe Bucks be taken from the Chase at Rugeleye to stock the Queens Park at Langley. Not only did ownership of the village change at that time - the name changed too and by 1282 it had become Langley Regina (Queens Langley).
Even more significantly, by 1284 the Langley Times headline might have been "King to Build Royal Palace in the Village". By 1286 the constable of Windsor Castle was ordered to "carry 30 tuns of wine to the King's cellar at Langley" - and boy that must have been some party for one tun is equivalent to 252 gallons, so that amount of wine would equate to 46,000 bottles in todays terms according to my calculations!!
In 1307 Edward II became King and, in 1312, founded a Dominican Friary on land adjacent to the Palace at the top of Langley Hill, one part of which remains to this day. The Priory Church was destined to become the resting place of Richard II after his assassination at Pontefract in 1400 and before his eventual burial at Westminster Abbey in 1414.
Indeed, the Royal presence was to dominate village life here for the next 150 years - so much so that, at the time of the Black Death in 1349, Edward III made Langley Palace his seat of government and all laws and acts passed in England during that period were signed from the palace here. Edward's fifth son Edmond was born at the Palace and was created the first Duke of York.
In 1431 though, the newspaper headines might have read "Palace Hit by Devastating Fire", for part of the Palace was destroyed in that way, and subsequently the place saw a rapid decline in Royal patronage.
By the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 the Palace had already been partially dismantled and allowed to fall into decay. The Friary Church was to suffer a similar fate and in 1574 the Tomb of Edmund de Langley was removed from the Priory and placed in the north end of the Chancel of the Parish Church where it remained for over 300 years until, in 1877, it was moved again to its present site in the Royal Memorial Chapel.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the village reverted back from the heady days of Royal patronage to its agricultural past. Of course it was a staging point on the coach road up to Aylesbury and Oxford, with the Saracens Head and the Eagle providing the opportunity for rest and a change of horses. In 1668, headlines were made when "James Goodwin at the Rose and Crown Inn issues his own coinage". This was a half penny token and was similar to ones produced by a number of traders throughout the country to meet the lack of small change from the Royal Mint
The next significant headline to appear in the Local Paper was almost certainly "Grand Junction Canal to Pass Through Kings Langley" for, in 1793, construction of a major waterway linking the Midlands with London began and the line of the River Gade formed part of the route. The Kings Langley section was opened in 1797 and the significance of this of this event soon became apparent with the development of the John Dickinson's Paper Mills along the valley.
"Home Park Mill Opens" was the headline in 1826, for in July that year, John Dickinson's new Mill extended his factories further downstream from Frogmore and Apsley to Kings Langley. The link with the canal was obvious and most important in a commercial sense.
Less than 10 years later though another major transport innovation was to take place for the headline in 1835 was "Main West Coast Railway Construction Commences", and by 1837 the first trains were emerging from the Watford Tunnel at Hunton Bridge to pass along this valley from London as far as Boxmoor. Thanks to John Dickinson's efforts a "Halt" was introduced at Home Park before Home Park Station was officially opened in 1842.
With the expansion of industry and commerce, the village population started to expand and with it a stronger sense of community spirit. In 1830 "Kings Langley Cricket Club Founded" was the story of the year.
In 1838 "Church Lane School Built" was another indication of growing prosperity in the village - the school incidentally being endowed by John Dickinson who was having an increasing influence on village life.
By the time of the 1841 National Census, the population of the Parish (which at that time included Chipperfield) had reached 1629, almost double that only 40 years earlier.
The Parish Church is the oldest building in the village with parts of it dating from the 13th century. During Victorian times it underwent considerable renovation, including the transfer of the Tomb of Edmund de Langley to a newly constructed Royal Memorial Chapel, largely funded by the Longman family of Shendish (John Dickinson's partner). "Queen presents New Window to Church" would certainly have been a headline in 1878, for, as her personal contribution to the adornment of the new Chapel, Queen Victoria presented the beautiful East window which we can still enjoy today.
After the Queen died, a further window, dedicated to her and paid for by public subscription, was put into the Chapel so the headline in 1901 would have been "Queen Victoria Memorial Window Unveiled". Interestingly, this window replaced one which was then sent to an outpost of the British Empire in the North West of Canada, a place then called Gitwingat since renamed Kitwanga in British Columbia, where it stills adorns the church there today.
Many social and commercial aspects flourished in the village during the Victorian period.The Cricket Club had already played its first game by 1830. A "Village Reading Room Opened" in 1859, a "Gas Works Opened" in 1863 at the lower end of Church Lane, "Kings Langley Football Club" played their first game on 6th November 1886, and a Tennis Club" was in operation in 1894. In 1895 "Mains Water Comes to Kings Langley" was the headline when the Rickmansworth Water Company laid a pipe through to the village eventually rendering the 20 odd wells which had previously supplied the village redundant.
The 20th Century saw a further expansion of all these activities with a "Debating Club", a "Gymnasium Club", a "Rifle Club", and a "Choral Society" all being formed before the first World War. "Production of Ovaltine begins at local Factory" would have been the headline in 1913, but then of course the Great War commanded the headlines.
"Christopher Cox awarded Victoria Cross for Valour" was undoubtedly the cause for a great deal of local pride in 1917. Private Cox was cited for the award by his superior officers after repeatedly going out to rescue wounded comrades under heavy artillery fire over two days in March 1917 and was presented with his VC by King George V on 21 of July, 1917.
Between the two World Wars the village, and local clubs and Societies, continued to expand. "The Womens Institute" had their first meeting in 1919, "Kings Langley Players" had their first performance in 1925, The ”Kings Langley Bowling Club” opened in 1930 with local Doctor Reginald Fisher bowling the first wood on 3rd May.
1n spite of economic recessions industry in the village also expanded with the railway and canal being key aspects in this expansion - a very familiar sight on the canal were the barges serving the local Tooveys Mill, John Dickinson, and Ovaltine companies.
"Ovaltineys broadcast on Radio Luxembourg" was the headline in 1935, and the half hour show at 5.30 pm became a regular date every Sunday evening from then on for some 5 million members of the League of Ovaltineys.
The Second World War saw all these industries engaged in the war effort, while Barnes Lodge in Barnes Lane was requisitioned by the War Ministry and played a key role receiving coded messages from the resistance fighters in Europe, especially Poland. "Barnes Lodge signals onset of Polish Uprising" might have been the headline on 1st August 1944 had it not been for the fact that all the activities there were highly secret.
The latter part of the 20th century seems hardly like history, but to future generations the events we take for granted today will themselves be history. It is the role of any local history society to record today's news, and in our society we attempt to do just that - with the closure of the Dickinson Paper Mills, the arrival of the M25, the continued population growth of the village and housing development on the Ovaltine Factory site being some recent examples.