At the beginning of the 19th century, Watford consisted of a single long road (now known as Lower High Street) extending from St Mary’s church to a ford at the river Colne. In 1801, its population was 3,530.
However, the coming of the railway in 1837 transformed it into a growing industrial and dormitory area. In 1881 the population had increased to 10,000.
From 1829, with the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act, the British Catholic community began to reassert itself, with prominent Anglicans like Newman and Manning becoming converts. Priests began bringing Catholics back into the fold in every town and village in the country.
The re-establishment of the Catholic church in Watford was mainly the result of the enthusiasm and commitment of Fr George Bampfield, a young priest who had converted from Anglicanism. Having established missions at Waltham Cross, Barnet, Enfield and St Albans, he came to Watford in an attempt to start a mission there in 1861.
At first Fr Bampfield found only four or five Catholic families living in the poorest of conditions, unsuitable for the establishment of a mass centre. Later, in 1863, more Catholics begin to come forward as a result of newspaper adverts that Fr Bampfield had to placed.
A room in Carey Place (which no longer exists) was hired that acted as Watford’s first Catholic church from 17th October 1863, but Fr Bampfield really wanted to establish a permanent church building for the parish. Building plots were being offered for sale close to the Bushey railway arches. Watford’s first permanent Catholic church building opened in 1863, a simple wooden hut in Upper Paddock Road, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St John the Evangelist. Mass continued in this building until 1959 when the Bushey and Oxhey church of the same name was dedicated in London Road.
Due to the increasing number of Catholics in Watford, a new church in Water Lane opened in 1883 and continued to be used until Holy Rood opened in 1890. Fr Samuel Swanston was the resident priest of this new church, although he became seriously ill soon afterwards and died in 1887.
After this, the The Cardinal then appointed Fr. Henry Hardy of the Harrow mission as priest in charge of the two missions, with Fr James Doyle as assistant priest. Fr Hardy died soon after his joint appointment, late in 1887 and was succeeded by Fr Michael Ryan.