A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.
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Cowley church was in existence by the 12th century, (fn. 1) having presumably been founded by Westminster Abbey or one of its tenants to minister to the needs of the manor. It continued to serve the same area (fn. 2) until 1865 when the four detached parts of the parish nearest to Uxbridge were assigned to the new parish of St. Andrew, Hillingdon. (fn. 3) In 1884, before a similar change was effected in the civil boundaries, the area of Hillingdon west of the Pinn and south of St. Andrew's was transferred to Cowley ecclesiastical parish, thus considerably increasing its size. (fn. 4)
Westminster did not appropriate the church of Cowley to its own use, perhaps because the patronage may have always belonged to the abbey's tenants, who are known to have held it from the mid-13th century. (fn. 5) The advowson continued to descend with the manor, though occasional single turns were granted to other persons, (fn. 6) until 1924, when the members of the Hilliard family in whom it was vested conveyed it to the Bishop of London. (fn. 7)
The rectory was valued at 8 marks in 1254 and 1291, and at £11 in 1535. (fn. 8) By 1650 it had risen to £70, 'if [the tithes were] duly paid', and between c. 1770 and 1835 it rose from £74 to £230. (fn. 9) In 1884 the living was worth only £150, but it was increased by £50 from Hillingdon vicarage in 1886, after part of Hillingdon had been transferred to the parish. (fn. 10) In 1955 the endowment provided £478 out of the net income of £637. (fn. 11) The endowment comprised the income from the glebe and all the tithes. The glebe consisted of the rectory house and about 20 acres, mostly lying in Cowley Field. (fn. 12) After the inclosure of 1796 most of it lay near the rectory. It was increased to 34½ acres at the inclosure because the tithes of Cowley Field and of some old inclosures were at the same time commuted for land. (fn. 13) In 1850 the tithes of the rest of the parish were commuted for a rent-charge of £46. (fn. 14) By 1959 virtually all the glebe had been sold. The rectory house by the church was rebuilt c. 1807 (fn. 15) and was sold about 1947, when it was replaced by a smaller house across the road. (fn. 16)
Virtually nothing is known of the life of the parish in the Middle Ages: one rector was ordained deacon in 1299, apparently after his appointment. (fn. 17) The will of another (d. 1412) makes no mention of any lights or altars in the church. (fn. 18) The rector appointed in 1550 was deprived in 1554 for being married and was restored in 1558. (fn. 19) He resigned in 1562, perhaps because he had for some years held another living, (fn. 20) and his successor was suspended in 1586, and was said to be old and ignorant. (fn. 21) He was deprived the following year, and tried unsuccessfully to make the next incumbent pay the arrears of tenths which had been accumulating unpaid since 1535. (fn. 22) The next vicar also held the living of Willesden, and another (1629-48), who was a fellow of Eton and canon of Windsor, held that of Ruislip during part of his incumbency. He probably resided occasionally at Cowley, since he was buried there. (fn. 23) No rector appears to have been ejected either by Parliament or at the Restoration: the 'preaching minister' of 1650 had been appointed by the regular patron. Between 1654 and 1751 many non-parishioners were married at Cowley: it may have been a recognized church for marriages of doubtful propriety. (fn. 24) One 18thcentury rector (1718-71) was resident but also helped the vicar of Ruislip with his parish, while the next, Richard Dodd (rector 1771-1807), seems to have taken some interest in Cowley, (fn. 25) though he did not reside there regularly. He also kept a curate. About 1723 there were two services each Sunday and four communion services a year. By 1766 there was only one Sunday service, held in the evening, and there were only 10 or 12 communicants. (fn. 26) John Hilliard was presented to the rectory in 1807 by his father, the lord of the manor, and continued to hold the living until his death in 1851. (fn. 27) He had rebuilt the parsonage house by 1810, but moved to Cowley House when he succeeded to his father's estates. By 1810 there were 20 communicants, and by c. 1828 Hilliard had reintroduced a second Sunday service. (fn. 28) In 1834 he was said to visit the poor and to be 'one of the best of men, and attentive to their necessities'. (fn. 29) Two members of the Hilliard family succeeded him in turn, the first serving for 31 years and the second for 20, so that for nearly a century Cowley had only three rectors, all of the same family. (fn. 30) By the end of this period there was a third Sunday service, but the rector appointed in 1902 was the first to hold 8 a.m. communion services. He also started a number of parish societies and organizations. By 1923 he held choral eucharists on some Sundays, and by 1930 there were services on saints' days. (fn. 31) Daily communion services were started in 1952. (fn. 32) In 1959 sung eucharist was the principal Sunday service two or three times a month and sung matins twice. There were then 129 names on the electoral roll. (fn. 33)
The church of ST. LAURENCE, Cowley, is the smallest medieval parish church in the county. (fn. 34) It is built mainly of flint rubble, with freestone dressings, and has a tiled roof. It consists of chancel, nave, north vestry, west porch, and bell-turret. The nave dates from the 12th century. One original round-headed window survives, though it has been slightly enlarged, and there is a two-light window of c. 1300: the rest of the windows were enlarged or inserted later. The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century and retains three partly restored lancet windows at the east end. The chancel arch was removed about 1500 and the church may have been reroofed at this time. The roof is ceiled but has three king-post trusses below the ceiling. The truss dividing the nave and chancel, which is a notable feature of the interior of the church, is filled with timber arcading, apparently much restored. In 1780 Thomas Dagnall paid for the erection of a new west porch of brick, a new wooden bell-turret, and a spire. (fn. 35) He also 'beautified the inside of the . . . church and chancel', and was perhaps responsible for plastering and panelling the arcaded roof-truss (now uncovered). (fn. 36) The south door of the nave was perhaps blocked up at this time.
In 1673 the archdeacon ordered the removal of a seat in the chancel from just in front of the communion table, (fn. 37) but in 1849 the church was still said to be in 'a grievous state from pues and galleries', and the pews were of 'all sizes, shapes, and colours.' (fn. 38) They had been replaced by 1880, but the chancel gallery, which was entered through a window by steps from the outside, probably remained until 1897, when the church is known to have been restored. (fn. 39) The double gallery at the west end, which incorporates the four angle-posts supporting the bell-turret, still survived in 1959. Other changes made in the second half of the 19th century (fn. 40) include the addition of a north vestry and a south porch, the 18th-century west porch, from which the new one opened, becoming a baptistry. The present font dates from this time: in 1849 a 'minute cavity' in the sill of one of the north windows was being used as a font. The bowl of what appears to be a medieval font lies in the churchyard below the east window. (fn. 41)
There is a palimpsest brass of 1502, with figures of a man and wife, a number of 17th- and 18thcentury floor slabs, (fn. 42) and several 19th-century wallmonuments. Some of these, with some of the stained glass in the windows, commemorate members of the Hilliard family. On the porch is an inscription to Dr. W. Dodd, brother of the then rector and at one time chaplain to George III, who was executed at Tyburn in 1777 for forgery and was buried in the churchyard. (fn. 43)
The plate includes two patens of the 18th century. A large flagon of 1709 was replaced in 1906 by a smaller one. (fn. 44) The first volume of the registers contains baptisms and burials from 1562 and marriages from 1563. (fn. 45)