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Hanwell Past, Present and Future. A talk by: Rollo Watts.

16th September 2002.

Map of Hanwell in 1800 (154KB)

Let us start by turning the clock back 5,000 years, and look at this part of Hanwell as it was then. Where we are sitting (the old Salvation Army Hall) was thick forest. ~ here Stone Age men hunted the wild animals that roamed around here. I`m sure you all know the story of the huge glacial stone which now stands at the entrance to Elthorne Park, and was found embedded in the gravel where Townholme Crescent now stands. Around the stone were found the remains of cinery urns (funeral urns) and a variety of Stone Age flint tools and implements. Situated close to the River Brent, with defensive high ground near by and a plentiful supply of fish just a mile away in the Thames, we can assume that this spot became a meeting place for local tribes. Certainly, a strange stone of this nature in the middle of the forest would have held a special significance for them. And so, it seems that here we have the first Hanwellians.

The earliest mention we have of Hanwell is in A.D.959 when Alfwyn, the Saxon Lord of the Manor, borrowed 30 in silver from St. Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in order to make the pilgrimage to Rome. Hanwell was a typical medieval village which then stretched right down to the Thames at Brentford where there was a small settlement of villagers who fished and wove baskets for sale, The main village, however, was grouped around St. Mary`s Church and the Doomsday Book recorded that there were seventeen men engaged in agriculture. Thus, with their families, a miller, a blacksmith, a weaver and a priest, the entire population in that part of Hanwell was 50 men, women and children.

The villagers kept 50 pigs which they grazed in the thick forests covering Cuckoo Hill, and they cultivated three large fields, growing wheat, oats, potatoes and beans. They used the Saxon method of farming whereby the land was divided into strips, and lots were drawn at the start of the year so that everyone had an equal share of good and poor land. They kept cows and sheep, but most cattle had to be slaughtered at the coming of winter because there was nothing to feed them on. Life was hard indeed, and it is no wonder the villagers celebrated the coming of Spring with a festival in May - perhaps the very early forerunner of our own Hanwell Carnival.

The village of Hanwell remained unchanged for several hundred years although, in 1280. the southern part of the Parish, from where Boston Manor Station now stands, was separated by King Edward 1st, who formed the new Manor of Bordestone.

As I have said, life was very hard for the villagers, and you can imagine therefore, that when the crops failed or the winter was particularly bitter, there was great hardship and poverty. And so it was a tremendous act of charity when, in 1484, a free tenant. William Hobbayne, left his property - a house, a barn and 22 acres of land, for the maintenance of the Church and the relief of the poor people of the village. The income from this estate though small, was of great help and set the scene for the caring community which Hanwell was to become.

However, it is interesting to note that in 1612, when the income from the Hobbayne land had risen to 6.13.4d a year, the Charity Commissioners laid down to the trustees of the charity the type of people who could receive benefit:

"They shall bestow the same upon such persons of the said Parish who shall stand in most need thereof, either by reason of infirmity, age, visitation of God, or that by sudden mischance shall be disabled to help themselves.

And upon such poor persons of the said town of Hanwell as shall frequent and repair to the Church of Hanwell on the Sabbath to hear the Divine Service and not upon such as shall haunt ale houses and disable themselves by drinking; nor upon such as shall be common hedge-breakers, wood stealers, and other trespassers of the like nature, or shall insolently behave themselves towards the Trustees, Churchwardens or Overseers of the poor - but the same shall be bestowed upon such poor people as humbly, submissively and decently behave themselves as honest poor men ought to do!"

Whenever I read this I always shudder at the patronizing attitude of the then Charity Commissioners, and wonder how the instructions were received by the Churchwardens, bearing in mind they had built an Ale House opposite the church, to which they used to retire after morning service.

Well, the village continued on its uneventful way, and we can get an idea of village life by some of the grants given to villagers:

  1. David Nichols was given five shillings, his children being ill with smallpox, and later that year he received thirty shillings for `a bad back which occasioned him a long confinement`.
  2. Five shillings was given to Goody Gramsgrove towards putting her child into the Hospital`.
  3. Widow Hill was awarded fifteen shillings - `her having broke her collar bone`.
  4. And, Old Brown`s wife was given ten shillings - `to take her child to the salt water, he having been bit by a mad dog`.

Of course, illness could prove a disaster, for if the man of the family was unable to work, all that stood between them and hunger was the help of neighbours and help from the Charity. The compassion of the Trustees was shown when five shillings was given to Goody Capatter - `in her husband`s absence in the country - `A discreet way of saving that he was in prison. And Hanwell did not have a workhouse and so. in 1790, the Charity built five houses for the poor in Half Acre Road (or Love Lane as it was then known).

By 1700 a great change had come about in Hanwell. London had grown dramatically and people flooded into the capital in search of work and wealth, and they created a huge demand for food and housing. The road from London to the west country (now the Uxbridge Road) became increasingly busy, and the stream of merchants and travellers passing through Hanwell brought new requirements, By 1720 an Inn, appropriately called `The Coach and Horses (now The Viaduct) had been built next to Brent Bridge. Beyond the Bridge lay wild heathland notorious for its highwaymen, and so travellers leaving London would stay overnight at the Inn to ensure facing the heathland only in daylight the next day. The area west of the bridge was known as Chevey Chase. A name which conjures up a picture of a stagecoach speeding furiously over the last few miles to reach the safety of the Inn before darkness. If a highwayman should be caught, there was a gallows, built by the Abbot of Westminster, just half a mile away, ready to deal with him (the nearby Gallows Bridge is still there today).

The building of the Inn was the start of a big change in Hanwell, for with it came a need for chambermaids, servants, blacksmiths, ostlers (a stableman at an inn) and waitresses and a whole host of services - and so a new settlement developed around the Brent Bridge area.

At this time, the village stocks stood at the junction of Uxbridge Road and Half Acre, and next to it stood the cage where miscreants were lodged before being taken to the Court.

Now, let us stop for a moment and look at Hanwell as it was in 1800 when the population had risen to 800. The village was still very underdeveloped; the three great fields - Churchfields, East Field and South Field were still under strip cultivation and Hanwell Heath still existed for the people to graze their cattle upon. But all this was about to change. Even before the Enclosure Act of 1814 came into being, the larger landowners were gaining control of most of the land to grow hay to meet the ever increasing demand from London, and the enclosure of Hanwell Heath did away with the villagers` grazing rights they had enjoyed for hundreds of years. Instead, rows of small terraced houses were built upon the Heath and along the Uxbridge Road, and the displaced farm workers were forced to seek a different kind of work elsewhere. But then came the arrival of the railway in 1838, and this opened the village to the outside world, and people were able to travel to London itself, where work was more plentiful.

Also at this time, wealthy people from London, who wished to escape from the dirt and bustle of the city, found an escape in the pretty little village of Hanwell. They built large houses in Golden Manor, Manor Court Road and along Church Road. and with these houses came a requirement for coachmen, gardeners and domestic staff. And so the face of Hanwell changed as it more and more became a dormitory suburb of London.

And in 1857, the Cuckoo Schools were built on the eastern side of Greenford Avenue to provide a residential School for orphaned children and children from the London work houses. Overnight, they doubled the population of Hanwell.

And the community of Hanwell was still a caring one for, in 1900, the Queen Victoria and War Memorial Hospital was built in Green Lane by public subscription, to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Hanwell Cottage Hospital as it became known was demolished when the New Ealing Hospital was built, but I have a most interesting report of the Hospital`s first AGM in 1900. This includes a list of rules and regulations for patients, and tends to make Ealing Hospital look like a holiday camp:

  1. A male patient is not allowed to go into the female wards nor any female patient into the male wards, without the Medical Officers permission.
  2. A person shall not curse or swear or use any indecent or abusive language. Playing at cards or dice or smoking within the Hospital is forbidden.
  3. Visiting times are between 2pm and 4pm on Sundays, and between
    3pm and 4pm on Wednesdays.
  4. Such of the patients as maybe adjudged able by the Medical Officer are, at the request of the Matron or Nurse, to assist her in nursing, washing and cleaning, and in doing any other work which either of them may require.

Some of it sounds a bit grim, but many of us remember it as a very friendly little hospital which played an important role in our community. The report of the AGM is also interesting in that the earliest record of Hanwell Carnival appears where a grant of nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and eleven pence from Carnival was acknowledged.

In 1901 the electric tram service from Acton to Southall started. This opened up Hanwell further and, five years later, after the tram link to Brentford had opened, houses were built on both sides of Boston Road.

The first World War put a stop to development but, in 1933, the London
County Council built the Cuckoo Estate on the east side of Greenford
Avenue, and suddenly the population soared again, as the Estate boasted
1592 new houses.

After the Second World War, there was again a demand for new housing and many of Hanwell`s fine old houses with large grounds, were demolished to make way for large blocks of flats. Many changes also occurred in what constituted `need`, and Hobbayne Trust found themselves asked no longer for coal and food, but for gas-stoves, fridge`s and washing machines, television sets for the housebound and clothes for the children of single parents. And the number of cars proliferated on our narrow streets. Most houses in Hanwell were built before the need for garages, and so our roads have become lined with parked vehicles on both sides.

And many other changes have been brought about in Hanwell for, as we all know, the creation of Supermarkets has killed the small shops on the High Street. Nowhere is that more visible than in Hanwell Broadway -which used to be the heart of Hanwell. But the biggest change has been the arrival of immigrants into our village and so, like so many areas of London, we have become a multi-national community, with its diverse customs, dress and various religious beliefs.

And so how do we see the future? Well, I believe it is in good hands because of the dedication of organizations like your own, of Hanwell Steering committee, of the Hanwell Area Committee of Age Concern, of Hanwell Neighbourly Care and of many other voluntary organizations. I believe there is a strong desire to keep Hanwell`s identity, and I am confident that many of the newcomers into our community will capture that feeling of `belonging`, and will prove to become good Hanwellians.

Many things may change, but in our boundaries, which are only two miles long by half a mile wide, we still keep Elthorne Park and the Playing Fields, Churchfields and the Bunny Park and Brent Valley Golf Course. We still have Billets Hart and the Brent River Park, and we are still able to walk along the banks of the River Brent and along the towpaths of their Canal and feel we are somewhere deep in the countryside.

Yes. Hanwell is still a very special place.