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Hanwell is a Community! An essay by Tessa.

An essay by Tessa.

Ideas about community '... enable people to conceive of more inclusive modes of association, notions of 'community'... create and are the creative principles for people's sense of belonging' (Scott K. Phillips, in Course Reader, p.238).

When Scott says that, 'communities are established by the people for the people' (Volume 3, chapter, 6) he means they grow organically to serve the interests of the people of the neighbourhood. To explore these notions of community the village of Hanwell has been used as a model. Through Hanwell we shall look for evidence of symbols of community, that is to say residential persistence, workplace patterns, kinship, special interest groups, and other markers of communities. Some evidence has been gained from the personal memories of former residents of Hanwell between 1904-1933 taken from 'Hanwell Remembered'. Other evidence comes from the 1891 census, the 1903 Kelly's Directory and personal observations.

Hanwell, was originally a small village, it is situated eight miles West of London. Boundaries define community identity and Hanwell's physical limits are the River Brent to the North and West, the Grand Union Canal to the South, and Elthorne Park to the East. The community developed around a natural source of fresh water from an underground spring. This spring was the focal point of the community in mediaeval times. A census of Hanwell in 1664 (Victoria Country History, pp1-1) recorded the community as just seventy three households. The 1891 census shows evidence of much in-migration with a concentration of migrants from the same socio-economic groups. For example, in Saint Dunstan's Road, there were bricklayers, carpenters, gardeners, dressmakers, who according to Anderson's classifications, (Volume 4, pp ) belonged to socio-economic group 3. Hanwell never became an industrial centre.

Evidence of residential persistence exists as most houses in Hanwell were rented by the same families over long periods of time. By 1904 Hanwell had grown to 10,000 people, fed by migration and marriage and natural population increase. The 1891 census, and the 1903 Kelly's Directory, show tradesmen (and a few women), occupying small corner shops over a long period of time. These shops were often family run, and the premises rented. According to Mrs. Celia Simpson, (speaking of the period 1915-1925), 'Hanwell was more of a large village in those days, everyone knew everyone else', (Hanwell Remembered pp.3-3).This is often quoted as a symbol of neighbourhood cohesion. The fact that some names occur from census to census, suggests a rooted local identity.

In 1891 family size averaged 3.5. Most adults contributed to the family income. They were mainly employed locally in small enterprises, for instance, the 'Dye Factory', the 'Violin Factory', the laundries, craft centres, shops, and the Lunatic Asylum. People took pride in hard working, and retirement came late in life. Local employment largely determined the nature of the community (see Donnachie, Volume, 3 pp.68-1).

The local schools, churches), and chapels, were focal points for community meetings. Whilst family events, played their part in strengthening a sense of belonging. Religion played a strong part in community life. According to Mrs. C. Simpson 'we were doubly lucky as the Catholic parish was one large, close-knit family'. (People often involve the idea of family when talking of the wider community) Community is an evolving organism, some remember the 1920's saying .... 'there was a general air of hope, no more wars, things could only get better... people could buy their houses instead of renting... it was a time for planning and saving' ( Hanwell Remembered, pp.4-2). and at the same time Percy Talman remembered that 'Hanwell was then a peaceful and most friendly little town no matter which direction you looked....you could see lush pastures' (pp.7-3). But although Hanwell community was not static it was stable for 'none of the teachers left during my ten years in Hanwell, they seemed to be part of the school and we were part of their family' (Bradley, A. pp.19-7).

When the Great Western Railway (GWR) station was built, people could commute over longer distances to and from Hanwell with ease. The railway, divided the community socially , for Mrs. Celia Simpson recalls, 'the railway line was a definite dividing line in Hanwell. South the cosy working-class village, to the North, a commuters paradise' ('Hanwell Remembered', pp.3-1) The development of the canal, railway, and road, offered forms of transport which connected the local to the wider world. The churches, both Roman Catholic and Baptist, and the Salvation Army provided a focal point for community activities. The parish priests and church leaders were significant figures in the community.

By the early 1900's Hanwell consisted of a fairly homogeneous population who worked locally. Neighbourliness was taken for granted and people walked freely into each others houses borrowing small household items and standing together in times of crises. This is the symbolic social cement of community.

Hanwell, although parts of it retain a slightly archaic village like atmosphere, has also been transformed by wider economic and social developments. The closing of small industries and local shops, the rise in new hi-tech occupations and growth in commuting and most significantly by migration from overseas, as opposed to local migration. These factors have been intensified by the decline of religion, the increased number of women working, and greater social mobility. Changes are reflected in the cultural diversification of food in the local shops and the ownership of shops by people from ethnic minority groups. there are now few signs of continuity as shops change hands rapidly. However, continuity does occur and certain events, for example, the Hanwell Carnival and the 'Beating the Bounds' ceremony, do affirm ongoing community tradition.

Changing family composition, loss of local working class opportunities have fragmented old patterns of community belonging. People commute to the city, Heathrow Airport and other parts of London to work. This has a profound effect on the idea of community and the concentration on individual lives is far more pronounced than it has ever been. Banks have closed despite community protests and the decline in attendance at one local church resulted in the building being sold and converted into luxury flats, which were mainly sold to outsiders, who could afford the high prices. The Salvation Army Chapel is now on the property market. and the 'Dye Factory' has moved outside of Hanwell. The community has been unable to resist these social and economic changes. Just how far ethnic and religious diversity, scattered families and the 'privatization' of social life can be accommodated with community continuity it is perhaps too soon to say.

The book 'Hanwell Remembered' is coloured by memories of a now distant past which lends a sheen of nostalgia, this is a re-occurring weakness of all oral history. The authenticity of personal experience gives the material vibrancy and immediacy but as a source of historical fact it is highly unreliable. The recollection of universal neighbourliness and mutual help can sometimes mask a hostility and resentment of of change and rejection of newcomers, particularly those of different ethnic and social backgrounds. for example, the first concern when a house comes on the market is 'who is going to live in it' and they do not what social class. When Mrs. C. Simpson idealised her neighbours, speaking of their 'kind heart and prim gardens' she is evoking a vanished world of close knit uniformity. Even this is unreliable since the 1891 census shows much evidence of multi-occupancy. Only a privileged few could afford to buy their own houses.

When Mrs. Celia Simpson talk of the Catholics in Hanwell being one large close-knit family, she gives the impression that Catholicism was the dominant religion at the time yet, my own observations, gained from walking around the area reveal evidence of several other Churches, and chapels which were present at the time.

They main advantages of using the Kelly's Directories 'is they are typed' and therefore easy to read. They were produced for the majority of places during the 19th and 20th centuries. Also they are available in public libraries and record depositories. However, the problem with using such directories to explore occupations, is that they were often not published at the same time of the census, and not updated frequently enough. Furthermore, they only lists property owners and for example, shop owners, (perhaps in the belief that only these could afford to buy the directory). There is no record of lodgers, employees or other transients. This can give an impression of stability which simply ignores the movement of people in and out of the area.

Similarly the 1891 census has its limitations. In 1891 the list of occupations was rudimentary and had not been elaborated as it subsequently was by the Registrar General in 1911. The enumerators of 1891 faced many obstacles, illiteracy, concealment of relationships, fugitives, mendacity over ages, unfamiliarity with dates of birth, hazy recollections of places of birth, and a general desire to conceal things from the authorities. Being handwritten the census returns are often difficult to decipher. Furthermore, places of occupation were not given, for instance, Mr. Blacks is shown as having three occupations, but it is not possible to identify the location of two of these, the third is easier as Hanwell only had one Asylum, where he could have worked as an attendant, but where he played the organ or mended his watches has to remain a mystery for now.

My own observations are limited by having lived in Hanwell for just twelve years. And no doubt my own prejudices and judgments influence what I have recorded. but as an ardent and interested spectator of social change what I have monitored is not without value.

The current nostalgia for 'community' depends on people's memories of time when communities were homogeneous. Where everybody knew their place and their part in the community. Together the sources, for all their failings make up for each others deficiencies and together constitute a reasonable picture of community stability and change over the years

Tessa.
kdg22@dial.pipex.com