Harefield: Economic and social history

Pages 247-251

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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There were 25 people mentioned on the manor of Harefield in 1086, (fn. 1) and there were at least 44 free tenants of the manor in 1316. (fn. 2) In 1560 there were 57 people holding land from the manor, (fn. 3) and slightly earlier, in 1547, there were 200 communicants in the parish. (fn. 4) In 1664 107 people were listed in connexion with hearth tax (fn. 5) and 85 people in Harefield were subject to the poor assessment in 1690. (fn. 6) There were 951 people in the village in 1801, and the numbers rose slowly to 1,516 in 1841. Having remained almost stationary for 40 years the population rose steadily after 1881, and steeply after 1921, until it reached a total of 6,150 in 1951. In and after 1931, however, this total included over 400 people in Harefield Chest Hospital. (fn. 7)

Little is known of the occupations of the villagers, but almost certainly most of them were occupied in agriculture. In 1086 there were 10 villeins, 8 bordars, 3 cottars, and 3 slaves, as well as a priest. (fn. 8) During the Middle Ages there must have been at least one miller and often probably two. (fn. 9) There was a smith with a forge in the village in 1545, (fn. 10) and at least one bricklayer in 1676. (fn. 11) The growth of a small industrial population began in the early 19th century, and in 1896 about 300 people were said to be employed by the asbestos mills, the cement works, and in the building trade. (fn. 12) Modern employment is divided between agriculture and the light industries along the river and canal. (fn. 13)

Virtually nothing is known of the medieval agricultural organization of Harefield. In 1086 there was woodland for 1,200 pigs. (fn. 14) The many acres of lowlying moor and heath probably made cultivation of the western side of the parish difficult, and there is evidence as early as 1308 of land drainage being carried out. (fn. 15) About a century earlier both ditching and assarting land was a condition of a conveyance. (fn. 16) Indeed, throughout the 13th century assarts are frequently mentioned, (fn. 17) and much of the parish was probably covered with woodland and scrub. Cattle were probably kept in some numbers, and in 1492 a lease included the provision that buildings damaged by horses and cattle 'horn high' were to be repaired. (fn. 18) On the manor in the 14th century the proportion of arable land to meadow was in the ratio of five to one, and that of arable to woodland was approximately the same. (fn. 19) Wheat and barley were among the crops cultivated, (fn. 20) and in the 15th century oats were certainly grown. (fn. 21) In 1328 rent and labour services were owned by both customary tenants and freeholders, (fn. 22) but no details are known. Fishing was another activity carried on in the manor, and four fishponds yielding 1,000 eels were noted in Domesday Book. (fn. 23) At least one fishpond was in existence on the manor in 1328. (fn. 24) Fishing in the Colne was carried on throughout the Middle Ages, and many conveyances of property include also the right of fishing in the river. (fn. 25) In the late 15th century Harefield manor did not appear to own any of the fishing in the river opposite Denham (Bucks.), (fn. 26) but, at least in the 16th and 17th centuries, it owned fisheries south of the mill. (fn. 27) In the 17th century tenants of the manors were allowed wood for their boats. (fn. 28)

At the Dissolution the manors of Harefield, Moorhall, and Brackenbury came into the hands of one family and became for the most part one estate. In the 16th and 17th centuries most of the land seems to have been arable; in 1593 Harefield and Moorhall manors consisted of 1,352 acres of arable, 460 acres of meadow, and 349 acres of wood. The tenants owned the right of pasture on the moor and heath lands. (fn. 29) In the 17th century both spring wheat and winter corn were being grown. (fn. 30) Later in the century a certain amount of arable was being converted into meadow land, and even in 1599 fines on the manor had been rated at 5s. for each acre of meadow, 3s. 4d. for each pasture acre, and only 2s. 6d. for each arable and woodland acre. (fn. 31) When Harefield Park was disparked about 1686 there was insufficient plough-land there and at Moorhall close by to be able to let the two together as a single farm. (fn. 32) By the mid-18th century there was a penalty of £6 an acre on the manor for each meadow or pasture acre that was ploughed up. This was increased to £10 an acre in 1766, when the meadow was to be mown only once a year. At this date the tenant of one of the farms owed the Newdigates two days work a year. (fn. 33)

The commons and moors played an important part in the economic life of the parish, and common of pasture on the Harefield moors was also granted to neighbouring places. Westminster Abbey was given common on Harefield Moor in 1313 for Denham manor, (fn. 34) Northolt owned common in Harefield parish in 1518, (fn. 35) and at least by 1593 the inhabitants of Uxbridge had pasture rights on the 84 acres of Cow Moor. (fn. 36) In the Middle Ages rights of pasture on the moor may not have been a privilege automatically attached to the cultivated land: on at least one occasion common of pasture depended on a grant from the lord of the manor. (fn. 37) In 1543 the lord owned 110 acres of the moor, as well as two moorland inclosures. (fn. 38) In 1636 (fn. 39) and 1692 (fn. 40) Harefield and Cow Moors amounted to 310 acres, and Harefield Heath to 100 acres, the total commons amounting in 1636 to 457 acres. Sheep seem to have been kept on the moors to some extent, (fn. 41) and were stinted on the heath in the late 17th century. (fn. 42) Cattle, pigs, and horses were stinted (fn. 43) from March to September on Cow Moor (fn. 44) and all the year round on Harefield Moor. (fn. 45) The Dairyhouse, later Dewes, farm alone had rights of common on Cow Moor all the year round by special grant from the lord. (fn. 46) A fairly large number of horses was kept in the village, and in 1659 about 130 died in an epidemic. (fn. 47) By the end of the 18th century part of the moor was also used for hay, and was mown twice a year. (fn. 48)

Inclosure began early in Harefield. An inclosure was conveyed in 1315, (fn. 49) and in the same year Simon Swanlond allowed Thomas de Luda to inclose a piece of the heath. (fn. 50) This inclosure was broken down by some of the free tenants, who claimed common of pasture there, but they agreed to let Thomas reinclose it on condition that he did not add to it. (fn. 51) In 1341 permission to inclose was included in a conveyance of 428 acres. (fn. 52) The open fields whose names are found until the 17th century had vanished by the mid-18th century. Among them are Smith Field, South Field, Middle Field, Free Field, Shireborne Field, (fn. 53) North Field, and Hill Field. (fn. 54) From the 16th to the 18th centuries the manor court presented many people for attempted inclosure of the commons, (fn. 55) although the lord himself had inclosures of over 110 acres on the moor in 1543, (fn. 56) and 30 acres of common had been inclosed in the south of the parish by 1707. (fn. 57) Most of the parish was inclosed during the 16th and 17th centuries, and by 1754 only the moors and common heath remained open. (fn. 58) In 1813 common-land amounting to 650 acres was inclosed by Act, (fn. 59) despite a petition against the bill, which had been promoted by the major landowners for the greater improvement of their estates. (fn. 60)

In 1813 there were twenty farms in the parish. (fn. 61) There were still twenty a century later, (fn. 62) and at least twelve in 1959. The number had fallen to ten in 1855, although it rose slowly again afterwards. (fn. 63) This may have been due partly to the inclosure, partly to the establishment of a certain amount of industry by the Colne and the canal, and partly to the consolidation of the landed estates around the large private houses in the parish, such as Breakspears, Harefield Lodge, Harefield Grove, and Harefield Park. In 1834 the agricultural workers were said to be the class most likely to require parish relief. Their wages, amounting to 12s. per week and rising to 15s. for haymaking and harvest, were recognized to be barely enough for subsistence. (fn. 64) In 1875 the farm labourers were again described as being amongst the poorest of the villagers, (fn. 65) but in 1896 it was said that the worst results of agricultural depression were averted by an industrial expansion. (fn. 66) Market- and nursery-gardening were carried on to some extent in the 19th century (fn. 67) and since about 1845 watercress has been extensively grown in the north-west corner of the parish. (fn. 68) In 1947 there were three horticultural holdings covering together some 453 acres. (fn. 69)

In the early 19th century a small pleasure fair was held every April (fn. 70) and in the middle of the century a cattle fair was said to have been held regularly in Harefield. (fn. 71) The tradition in the 1820's that all those born in the village had freedom of toll at markets, fairs, and quays, and had the right to set up in business in any city or town throughout the country except in London (fn. 72) appears to record a privilege that was unmentioned before or since.

The first non-agricultural industry in Harefield, other than the paper mills, (fn. 73) was the digging of lime and chalk. A marl-pit for digging chalk and lime was conveyed by the lord in 1318. (fn. 74) There was a chalk pit on the manor in 1545, (fn. 75) and in 1636 customary tenants of the manor were allowed to sell chalk, lime, and sand from their lands. (fn. 76) In the 19th century industrial development started, probably under the stimulus of the Grand Junction Canal, and took place along the canal banks. Lime kilns were in existence in 1813; (fn. 77) and in 1818, when they were being fully worked, they were employing about 150 people. (fn. 78) Chalk pits were also in existence in 1816, (fn. 79) and both lime and chalk was still being worked in 1820. (fn. 80) Lime continued to be produced until at least 1902. (fn. 81)

There was a tile kiln on the manor in 1545 (fn. 82) and 1564, (fn. 83) but nothing further is known until 1800 when there was a brick kiln in Harefield. (fn. 84) There was a brickworks in the village by 1866 which existed until the 1880's, when the firm turned over primarily to the manufacture of cement. Bricks were also produced until about 1922. (fn. 85) Stone was being quarried in the parish in 1831, (fn. 86) and surface workings, mainly for sand, took up quite a large area in the north and centre of the parish. (fn. 87)

The site of an earlier mill (fn. 88) had been taken over by 1795 by the Mines Royal Company, (fn. 89) and was used as a copper mill. The buildings were erected in 1803, and the mill, powered by water from the Colne, specialized in sheet copper and bolts which it supplied to the Royal Navy. (fn. 90) In 1803 121 workmen were employed, but this number had decreased by 1818 to about 70. (fn. 91) The company remained in the parish until some time after 1855, (fn. 92) after which date the works passed through a number of hands, becoming paper mills in the 1870's. In 1882 the United Asbestos Company leased the mills, which they held until the 1930's. (fn. 93) Their works consisted of three factories, which produced asbestos goods of all varieties under government contracts, fire-proof embossed wallpaper, and india rubber, which was itself used in the making of asbestos. (fn. 94) In the 1930's the buildings were taken over by three rubber firms who occupied most of them in 1959, some parts, however, being leased out. (fn. 95)

One or two small light industries appeared in the village during the 19th century, and there are references to a clockmaker, (fn. 96) a small brewery, (fn. 97) a straw-bonnet maker, (fn. 98) and a firm of colour manufacturers. (fn. 99) In the late 19th century a mineral-water company settled in the north of the parish (fn. 100) and was still there in 1959. During the first half of the 20th century new arrivals in the parish included two precast concrete firms, a printers' ink firm, a paint works, and three light engineering works. (fn. 101) The largest of these, Acrow Engineers, developed a site at Moorhall in 1941, and in 1959 employed 250 people, mainly resident in Harefield and Denham. (fn. 102) The Ministry of Supply opened the laboratories of the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate in 1940, and further buildings have since been erected around an older house. They employed predominantly local staff who numbered over 100 in 1959. (fn. 103) A case against further industrialization of the parish was made in 1944, (fn. 104) the recommendations in which have largely been followed, principally because of the absence of fast communications. In 1959 it was still predominantly an agricultural area.

Twice during the 19th century industry was blamed for spoiling the village. In 1816 the absence of a rural 'simplicity of manners' was blamed on the copper mills, (fn. 105) and the Baptist chapel was said to have been founded because of the 'dissolute habits' of the villagers on Sunday. (fn. 106) In the late 19th century the members of the chapel were described as being almost entirely working class, (fn. 107) and in 1894 there were bitter accusations in the parish council that the council blocked all the proposals of one councillor because he represented the working men. (fn. 108) Early trade unions do not, however, appear to have made much mark in the parish, although the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers held a meeting on the village green in 1889. (fn. 109) Bricklayers and carpenters were said to be able to earn up to £3 per week, (fn. 110) and a brick-setter averaged £2 per week throughout the year. (fn. 111)

At the beginning of the 19th century there was a friendly society in the village with 71 members, and six children belonged to the 'schools of industry'. (fn. 112) In 1833 a benefit society was registered, meeting at the 'King's Arms'. (fn. 113) A coal club was in existence in 1866, (fn. 114) and a clothing club for the cottagers by 1872. (fn. 115) The memorial hall, erected in the late 1860's, in memory of Robert (d. 1866), son of Robert Barnes of Manchester, (fn. 116) was built as a workmen's hall and was to be administered on strict principles of temperance. (fn. 117) It comprised a reading-room and lecture hall, (fn. 118) but was little patronized, and after 1870 the building was used as an infant school. (fn. 119) In the 1930's it was used as a maternity and child welfare clinic by the county council and during the Second World War it was taken over for civil defence purposes. (fn. 120) The memorial hall was replaced as a men's club by the Breakspears Institute, presented by Alfred Henry Tarleton of Breakspears, which was opened in 1896. The building included a reading-room, library, and bathroom. Indoor games were also provided. (fn. 121) Tarleton came to the parish about the time when much of the Newdigate property was sold, (fn. 122) and he virtually occupied the position of squire, patronizing village activities like the working-men's club, and providing a site and entertainment for village festivities in the park at Breakspears. (fn. 123) He also provided a manual fire-engine manned by his estate workers for the village in 1896, (fn. 124) and replaced it by a steam-engine in 1898. (fn. 125) In the early 20th century a refreshment room appeared, (fn. 126) which remained at least until the Second World War. (fn. 127)

Some social amenities in the late 19th century were provided by the asbestos works, which supported a string band, (fn. 128) a brass band, (fn. 129) and a football club. (fn. 130) The works provided a self-service canteen where the wives and children of the employees could meet as a family for meals. Cooking facilities were also provided. (fn. 131) A horticultural society was founded in 1889, (fn. 132) and the Harefield Cricket Club elected its first officers early in 1892. (fn. 133) The Court of Foresters met in 1893, (fn. 134) and a choral society was active during the Second World War. (fn. 135) Only village shops served the parish in 1959, the nearest shopping centre being at Uxbridge.


immediately before the inclosure of the commons in 1813


  • 1. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 130.
  • 2. M.R.O., Acc. 312/31.
  • 3. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./EF. 3.
  • 4. E 301/34, no. 130.
  • 5. E 179/253/17.
  • 6. Par. Rec., Poor Assessment Bk. 1687-99.
  • 7. Census, 1801-1951.
  • 8. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 130.
  • 9. For the mills see p. 247.
  • 10. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./EF. 2.
  • 11. M.R.O., Acc. 312/331.
  • 12. Uxbridge Gaz. 15 Aug. 1896.
  • 13. Ex inf. Ministry of Labour, Uxbridge Employment Exchange.
  • 14. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 130.
  • 15. Docs. penes Mr. F. H. M. FitzRoy Newdegate, Arbury Hall (Warws.).
  • 16. B.M. Cott. MS. Nero E. vi (1), ff. 85b-86.
  • 17. Ibid. ff. 85b, 86, 87b-88; W.A.M. 470, 483, 489; C.P. 25(1)/146/3/42.
  • 18. M.R.O., Acc. 312/253.
  • 19. Docs. penes Mr. FitzRoy Newdegate.
  • 20. CP. 25(1)/146/3/42.
  • 21. M.R.O., Acc. 312/275.
  • 22. Docs. penes Mr. FitzRoy Newdegate.
  • 23. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 130.
  • 24. Docs. penes Mr. FitzRoy Newdegate.
  • 25. e.g. M.R.O., Acc. 312/65, 67, 121; C.P. 25(1)/151 /83/33;/ 84/72; C.P. 25(2)/1363/21 Geo. III East.
  • 26. Westm. map, 432.
  • 27. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./M 11; EM. 2, f. 65.
  • 28. Ibid. EM. 56.
  • 29. Ibid. EM. 1.
  • 30. M.R.O., Acc. 312/524.
  • 31. C 78/232/15.
  • 32. Warws. R.O., CR. 136/B 1145.
  • 33. M.R.O., Hist. Notes, 25 July 1955.
  • 34. B.M. Harl. Ch. 84. G. 50.
  • 35. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./M 9.
  • 36. Ibid. EM. 1.
  • 37. M.R.O., Acc. 312/33.
  • 38. C 78/106/2.
  • 39. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./EM. 2.
  • 40. Ibid. EM. 7.
  • 41. Ibid. M 31; Acc. 312/524.
  • 42. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./M 68.
  • 43. Ibid. M 39, ff. 110-11.
  • 44. Ibid. EM. 2.
  • 45. Ibid. EM. 5a.
  • 46. Ibid. EM. 2.
  • 47. M.R.O., Acc. 312/149.
  • 48. P. Foot, View of Agric. of Mdx. (1794), 71.
  • 49. M.R.O., Acc. 312/247.
  • 50. Ibid. 276.
  • 51. Ibid. 31.
  • 52. Ibid. 261.
  • 53. Docs. penes Mr. F. H. M. FitzRoy Newdegate, Arbury Hall (Warws.).
  • 54. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./M 13.
  • 55. Ibid. M 1, EM. 2, M 77.
  • 56. C 78/106/2.
  • 57. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./M 68.
  • 58. J. Rocque, Map of Mdx. (1754).
  • 59. Uxbridge B.C., Harefield Incl. Award.
  • 60. H. L. MSS., Main Papers, 1 June 1811.
  • 61. Harefield Incl. Award.
  • 62. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1914).
  • 63. Ibid (1855 and later edns.).
  • 64. Rep. Poor Law Com. App. (B. 2), H.C. 44, p. 99 (1834), xxxv-vi.
  • 65. Mdx. and Bucks. Advertiser, 27 Feb. 1875.
  • 66. Uxbridge Gaz. 15 Aug. 1896.
  • 67. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1866 and later edns.).
  • 68. Ibid. (1845 and later edns.).
  • 69. L. G. Bennett, Hortic. Ind. of Mdx. (Reading Univ. Dept. of Agric. Econ. misc. studies no. 7), 38.
  • 70. Pigot, Lond. Dir. (1822-4).
  • 71. Rickmansworth News, 16 Nov. 1898.
  • 72. Pigot, Lond. Dir. (1822-4); Pigot, General Dir. (1824).
  • 73. For the mills see p. 247.
  • 74. M.R.O., Acc. 312/32.
  • 75. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./EF. 2.
  • 76. Ibid. EM. 2.
  • 77. Uxbridge B.C., Harefield Incl. Award.
  • 78. Redford and Riches, Hist. of Uxbridge (1818), 96.
  • 79. Brewer, Beauties of Eng. and Wales, x (5), 565.
  • 80. General Ambulator (1820), 157.
  • 81. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845 and later edns.).
  • 82. M.R.O., CR. 136/Mx./EF. 2.
  • 83. Ibid. EF. 3.
  • 84. J. Cary, Survey of 15 miles round Lond. (1800), 11.
  • 85. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1866-1922).
  • 86. Census, 1831.
  • 87. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. ix. 3 (2nd edn.); iv. 11, 15; ix. 3 (3rd edn.).
  • 88. For this mill see p. 247.
  • 89. Par. Rec., Poor Assessment Bk. 1795-1806.
  • 90. Brewer, Beauties of Eng. and Wales, x (5), 565. It is also said that the copper ball of St. Paul's Cathedral was made at Harefield: India Rubber Jnl. 14 May 1949.
  • 91. Redford and Riches, Hist. of Uxbridge (1818), 96.
  • 92. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845-55).
  • 93. India Rubber Jnl. 14 May 1949.
  • 94. Mdx. and Bucks. Advertiser, 29 July 1899.
  • 95. Ex inf. Rubberware Ltd.
  • 96. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845, 1851).
  • 97. Ibid. (1851-82).
  • 98. Ibid. (1862).
  • 99. Ibid. (1866).
  • 100. Ibid. (1895).
  • 101. Uxbridge U.D.C., Petition for Incorporation 1951, para. 181 (copy penes Uxbridge B.C.).
  • 102. Ex inf. Acrow (Engineers) Ltd.
  • 103. Ex inf. Ministry of Supply.
  • 104. P. Abercrombie, Gter. Lond. Plan (1944), 148.
  • 105. Brewer, Beauties of Eng. and Wales x (5), 563.
  • 106. L. D. Jarvis, Free Church Hist. of Uxbridge, 90.
  • 107. Ibid. 89.
  • 108. Mdx. and Bucks Advertiser, 15 Dec. 1894.
  • 109. King's Uxbridge Gaz. Almanack (1890).
  • 110. Char. Com. files.
  • 111. Bucks. Advertiser, 27 Feb. 1875.
  • 112. Rets. relative to Expense and Maintenance of Poor, H.C. 175, p. 295 (1804), xiii.
  • 113. M.R.O., C. P. Reg. of Socs. i. 13.
  • 114. Char. Com. files.
  • 115. W. F. Vernon, Notes on Harefield par. 59 (copy in B.M.).
  • 116. Inscription on building; see p. 256.
  • 117. Char. Com. files.
  • 118. Vernon, op. cit.
  • 119. See p. 257.
  • 120. Char. Com. files.
  • 121. Uxbridge Gaz. 15 Aug. 1896.
  • 122. See pp. 242, 245.
  • 123. M.R.O., Acc. 312/793 (press-cuttings concerning Tarleton family).
  • 124. Uxbridge Gaz. 29 Aug. 1896; Mdx. and Bucks. Advertiser, 31 July 1897.
  • 125. Uxbridge Gaz. 12 Nov. 1898.
  • 126. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1908).
  • 127. Ibid. (1937).
  • 128. Uxbridge Gaz. 26 Dec. 1896.
  • 129. Ibid. 31 July 1897.
  • 130. King's Uxbridge Gaz. Almanack (1899).
  • 131. Uxbridge Gaz. 29 July 1899.
  • 132. King's Uxbridge Gaz. Almanack (1890).
  • 133. Ibid. (1893).
  • 134. Ibid. (1894).
  • 135. Jarvis, Free Church Hist. of Uxbridge, 86.