History of WBAS

The Watford & Bushey Art Society was formed in 1921. Watford, once a sleepy market town, was expanding and thriving, largely due to the growth in its flourishing Printing and Paper industry.

Close by, the picturesque village of Bushey still retained the remnants of the community of artists and sculptors who were drawn to the area by the once famous (or infamous) school of art, founded in 1883 by Sir Hubert von Herkomer RA and later run by his protégé, Lucy Kemp-Welch.

It was at the home of Mr. F R Williams that eight men, all working for local printing companies, decided to form the “Watford Art Society”. Mr Williams was appointed as its first Secretary (and was still exhibiting his paintings in the Society’s exhibition in 1979 – aged 87).

The Society’s name was changed to include ‘Bushey’ in the early 1940’s to reflect the increasing number of members from that area.

From the outset the Society’s members were anxious to exhibit their work. The first exhibition was held in 1922 and, apart from the war years, the Society has held a major exhibition every year since.

The absence of a purpose-built art gallery in Watford was bemoaned by local councillors as early as 1936. Annual exhibitions were held at the Central Library, but with the focus of Watford moving to the High Street, and with the lack of parking, in 1992 the Society moved its annual Spring Exhibition to the newly built Harlequin Shopping Centre (now Intu Shopping Centre), with its purpose-built Gallery above the Upper Mall.

Over eight decades, members’ paintings recorded many of the changes that took place in the district. Many local scenes no longer exist – Home Farm in Hempstead Road, Cassiobury House, Findlaters Wine Merchants in the High Street and, of course, the Cassiobury Park Gates – or have changed beyond recognition. Some members’ paintings were bought by Watford Council and displayed in the Town Hall and Central Library, later to be moved to the Watford Museum. The Museum now owns about 90 works by former members of the Society.

Membership of the Society continued to grow in the early years despite the restrictions placed on new applicants requiring them to submit four works to be judged by a selection committee before ‘associate member’ status was granted. These divisive rules were swept away many years ago, with the Society now fiercely proud of its ‘open-to-all’ membership policy, ensuring a warm welcome to all, whatever their level.

The Society has a large membership and a high proportion of members turn up at our regular monthly meetings on the first Tuesday of every month. These meetings are held at Tennet Hall, Watford Grammar School for Girls, Lady’s Close, Watford WD18 0AE, to which visitors are also welcome. In addition, a wide range of other events and activities are held for members throughout the year.

So much for the past and present. As to the future, the Society can only grow and thrive with the encouragement and support of its members and the work of its Committee. However, it is confident that it will continue to meet the original objectives, set down now over 90 years ago; that is “to bring together, for mutual help and inception, artists and craftsmen and all interested in the fine arts“. A worthy aspiration.