Heston and Isleworth: Local government

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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'Heston and Isleworth: Local government', in 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, ed. Susan Reynolds( London, 1962), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol3/pp119-122 [accessed 16 July 2024].

'Heston and Isleworth: Local government', in 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. Edited by Susan Reynolds( London, 1962), British History Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol3/pp119-122.

"Heston and Isleworth: Local government". 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. Ed. Susan Reynolds(London, 1962), , British History Online. Web. 16 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol3/pp119-122.


The franchises which belonged to Isleworth manor in the 13th and 14th centuries were perhaps first enjoyed by Richard of Cornwall: in 1274 his heir exercised frankpledge jurisdiction, held pleas of withername and the assizes of bread and ale, and was alleged to hold pleas between his free tenants without a royal writ. He also had a gallows and a prison, (fn. 1) and certain of the cottars of the manor owed the service of guarding the prisoners captured within the liberty. (fn. 2) In 1293 it was said that the tenants of the manor and hundred of Isleworth had stopped attending the county court since Isleworth had been granted to Richard. (fn. 3) From 1448 Syon Abbey had the return of writs in all its lands and in 1492 it was given the right to appoint its own coroner for Isleworth manor. (fn. 4) Of the several courts generally held each year in the 14th and 15th centuries, one or two were usually views of frankpledge, and these were most often held in the late autumn, and sometimes in April or May. (fn. 5) In 1650 courts baron, and presumably leets as well, were held each Michaelmas, and in 1831 courts leet and baron were held in April and October. (fn. 6) By 1863 there was only one court a year, which was held at the 'Northumberland Arms', (fn. 7) and this seems to have been given up soon after. (fn. 8) In the Middle Ages the court officials included keepers of the heath. Constables, headboroughs, and aletasters were appointed for Isleworth, Heston, Hounslow, Twickenham, and Whitton. (fn. 9) In the 17th century and later the number of constables for each hamlet varied between one and two. (fn. 10) About 1690 the constable of Hounslow was in charge of the billeting of soldiers in the town. (fn. 11) The respective parishes paid the constables' expenses, Isleworth and Heston each paying half of those for Hounslow, and in 1822 the parish beadle of Isleworth was performing the constable's duties, but the constables continued here to be manorial rather than parish officers probably for as long as their office survived. (fn. 12)

In 1293 the Prior of St. Valéry (fn. 13) and the Master of St. Giles's Hospital claimed the assizes of bread and ale over their tenants in Isleworth and Heston. (fn. 14) St. Giles's liberties are not referred to later, but St. Valéry successfully claimed the right to chattels from the convicted tenants of the rectory manor in 1344, (fn. 15) and also held view of frankpledge from the 14th century. The rectory courts seem to have been held at varying times of the year: (fn. 16) in 1831 there was an annual court leet. (fn. 17) By the 17th century its jurisdiction over nuisances and so forth was restricted to a small area immediately round Isleworth church. (fn. 18)

The working of Isleworth vestry can be followed from 1654, when the first surviving order book begins. (fn. 19) The usual phrase describing those who made vestry orders in the next 50 or 100 years is 'the gentlemen and inhabitants of the parish'. The dozen or so who attended the vestries held three or four times each year included very few who could not sign their names. The members of the aristocracy with houses in Isleworth, however, took no part in its affairs, except when the vestry decided to consult them before embarking on any very costly enterprise. In 1749 the beadle was created a third overseer so that he could remove paupers who had to go to distant parishes, as this duty had become very inconvenient to the overseers who were tradesmen. In addition to the two churchwardens and two overseers, there were, for at least part of the time, four surveyors, of whom two collected and spent the highway rates of the Hounslow area.

Litigation took a fair amount of time and money in the earlier part of the 18th century, and about the middle of the century the vestry gave attention to the licensing of alehouses. Stocks were set up in 1743 (the manor had apparently provided them in the 15th century) (fn. 20) and a parish cage was mentioned in 1751. Already by the late 17th century, however, poor relief was the most expensive and troublesome business. There were regular payments for medical attention by 1722, and in 1785 the parish decided to subscribe to St. George's Hospital in London. In the second half of the 17th century the parish seems to have owned three almshouses or poorhouses. One was in Hounslow and was burnt down before 1692: (fn. 21) it may have been the almshouse maintained by townspeople in 1547. (fn. 22) Another was in Church Row and may have been the house by the church called the Stone or Porch House, though this was more often leased to provide part of the income of the parish charities known as the poor's lands. (fn. 23) The third was in Brentford End, at the west end of the bridge, (fn. 24) and was perhaps part of the almshouses formerly belonging to All Angels' Chapel. All seven of the All Angels' houses were still apparently standing and used as almshouses in 1576, and in 1608 five were said to be used by the parish of Isleworth for their poor. (fn. 25) In 1729 the vestry rebuilt the Brentford End house as a regular workhouse, accommodating 60 persons in four wards (widows, children, married couples, and the sick). The trustees of the new workhouse were referred to in 1753 as the 'committeemen of the parish', though they denied exercising undue influence over general parish affairs. A committee was appointed in 1749 to set the poor to work, but regular workhouse committee records do not survive before 1773.

In spite of the mounting cost of relief, interest in the parish affairs seems to have declined. Because of the 'fraudulent practices of the poor', the workhouse was farmed from 1796 to 1807, and a paid assistant overseer was appointed in 1801. In 1811 a special committee, appointed to study the reasons for rising expenditure, recommended greater strictness in the keeping of accounts and the collection of rates. In 1812-13 the rates reached their highest point under the old poor law, with £4,014 spent on relief, 77 people in the workhouse, and 223 getting regular out-relief. (fn. 26) The workhouse was farmed again from 1813, the Speenhamland system was introduced in 1816, and the workhouse was enlarged in 1818. Another committee the following year made much the same suggestions as the earlier one, and attributed the state of the accounts to the habit of leaving all the work to the paid assistant overseer. Isleworth did not have recourse to a select vestry, but administration seems to have become much more efficient in the 1820's. James Clitherow, of Boston House, who was a ratepayer in Isleworth, seems to have played a leading part in the vestry at this time. (fn. 27) A new workhouse was built in 1821 in Link Lane, and put under an annually elected committee and a paid master and mistress. The old workhouse was sold and pulled down. (fn. 28) The vestry clerk's return to the Poor Law Commission inquiry suggests that increased efficiency and economy had not entailed undue harshness. Those requiring relief were said to be chiefly agricultural or market-garden labourers, whose wages did not allow them to save, and to restrict relief to the unemployed would cause great distress to those whose only crime was having large families. There were generally over 80 people in the workhouse, and the cost, including the master's and mistress's salaries, was 4s. 3d. a head. An assistant commissioner reported that the house was so wellmanaged and comfortable that it was difficult to eject inmates in winter, and commented that 'the more that is done for this class of persons the more they expect'. The vestry clerk also asserted that, as the same persons rarely attended vestries twice in six months, and in any case acted on impulse or to serve private interests, it was much better to follow the Isleworth practice of leaving the management of the poor as far as possible to the overseers. (fn. 29) Isleworth became part of Brentford Union in 1836, (fn. 30) and the Link Lane workhouse was sold in 1839. It was later converted and used as almshouses. (fn. 31) The union workhouse in Twickenham Road (on the site of part of the West Middlesex Hospital) was built at about the same time. (fn. 32)

Vestries became less frequent after 1836, often only meeting in the spring to inspect accounts and elect officers. In 1837 the parish appointed a board of management for the highways under the Highway Act, 1835, (fn. 33) which relieved the vestry of another duty. In 1862 a vestry clerk was appointed at £50 a year, and a combined vestry hall and reading-room was built in South Street. (fn. 34) By this time, however, growing jealousies between Isleworth, Hounslow, and Heston were prejudicing local government in the whole area, and it is necessary to consider the situation in the other two districts before tracing further developments in Isleworth.

Much less is known about how Heston conducted its affairs, partly because no records survive except for part of the 18th century, and partly because it was a much smaller and probably less active community. The one vestry minute book, for 1710-82, has many gaps and is much more roughly kept than the Isleworth records. (fn. 35) Vestries were held irregularly, and the numbers attending seldom rose above a dozen, some of whom were illiterate. Richard Bulstrode the elder of Hounslow came sometimes, and so did some vicars. One incumbent quarrelled with the parishioners over the use and amount of a church rate and other matters and was said to be detaining the parish books, perhaps including some vestry minutes and accounts which have not been preserved. In the 1750's the parish farmed its poor and almost the only business of the vestry seems to have been the election of a beadle. In 1700 the churchwardens used a gift of £50 to buy a cottage at the east end of Hounslow for the use of the poor. (fn. 36) This was sold in 1726 and the proceeds were used to improve the Church House: the situation and use of the Church House are not known, but it was still in existence in 1734. (fn. 37) In 1777 there was said to be a workhouse for 30 persons, (fn. 38) but a new one was built out of parish charity funds in 1786 or just before. (fn. 39) There was still a workhouse in 1813, and in 1818 it stood at the south end of Sutton Lane, on the west side of the road. (fn. 40) According to a return of 1818 there seem to have been no inmates in 1812-14, and 35 in 1814-15. This workhouse continued to be used until Heston became part of Brentford Union, when it was presumably sold. The highest expenditure on relief before this seems to have been £2,043 in 1814-15, when 60 persons received relief, in addition to those in the workhouse. (fn. 41) In 1834 the vestry clerk reported that the parish was managed by the vestry, with no committees and no paid overseer. No relief was given to those with work, who, it was thought, ought to have been able to live on their wages. The workhouse was now kept in hand and had 28 inmates, mostly children and old people, costing 4s. 2d. a head, very little less than at Isleworth, though the régime seems to have been less generous. (fn. 42)

Hounslow, except for the constable appointed by the Isleworth manor court, had no separate provision for local government. The select vestry appointed for the chapelry in 1836 only had cognizance of ecclesiastical matters, and the growth of the town made the lack correspondingly great. (fn. 43) There was a fire-engine by 1847 (fn. 44) and a town hall (now replaced by the Empire Cinema) was built by a joint-stock company in 1858. (fn. 45) Street-lighting, too, was achieved after some difficulty: lamps were put up in Isleworth village as early as 1751, (fn. 46) and the turnpike trustees had powers to light the main road through Hounslow from 1767. (fn. 47) They had apparently more or less given up doing so (fn. 48) by 1839 when a public subscription financed eighteen gas-lamps in the town. (fn. 49) When the subscriptions ran out, application was made to the Isleworth and Heston vestries in vain, and it was not until 1856 that the Isleworth half of Hounslow succeeded in raising a rate for lighting under the Lighting and Watching Act, 1833. (fn. 50) A year later the Act was adopted for Isleworth town itself and both the districts were extended in the next ten years. (fn. 51) A burial board was also formed for Hounslow, which opened a cemetery just outside the boundary in Twickenham in 1868. (fn. 52) One for Isleworth, over which the vicar presided, was formed in 1877. (fn. 53) Both boards transferred their functions to the urban district council in 1909. (fn. 54) Little is known of affairs in Heston: the lighting arrangements suggest that it was not a progressive parish or one likely to establish ad hoc boards which would put up the rates, but apparently it had a highway board, and two of the leading members of the local board, when it was formed, came from Heston. (fn. 55)

In spite of the partial solution of lighting and burial problems which was achieved in the middle years of the century, the chief need of Isleworth and Hounslow was proper drainage, and this continued unsatisfied. Isleworth vestry discussed it as early as 1853. The fifties saw outbreaks of 'low fever' in the poorer parts of Hounslow, and an epidemic of typhus in 1870 was attributed to the open sewer which provided the only drainage of the new Spring Grove and Woodlands housing areas. A Hounslow Ratepayers' Association had meanwhile frustrated all attempts to form a local board. (fn. 56) The chief impediments were the impossibility of providing adequately for Hounslow without uniting the parishes of Heston and Isleworth, and the unwillingness of each part of the area to co-operate with the others. The local board was eventually formed in 1875 in the teeth of opposition from its constituent parts. (fn. 57)

The Borough of Heston and Isleworth

Tierce in pairle azure, sable and gules, in chief two wings joined argent, bottony, and to the sinister a lion rampant guardant parted fesswise gold and silver. (Granted 1932.)

It began with 18 members, who met until 1905 in Hounslow Town Hall. Their number was increased in 1907 to 21 (from five wards), and in 1921 to 24 (from eight wards). The urban district was created a borough in 1932 and since then another ward, with 3 more members, was added in 1949, so that in 1957 the council consisted of 36 members including 9 aldermen. (fn. 58) During the time of the local board and the first years of the urban district council the matters most frequently and heatedly discussed were the fire brigade and the provision of adequate sewerage. The fire brigade issue provided an outlet for continuing local jealousies since both Isleworth and Hounslow had already had engines for many years: an amateur brigade called the Hounslow Original survived for some years as a result of the disagreements. Drainage was a more important matter, but it was not until 1886, after the collapse of the abortive Thames valley scheme, that the Mogden sewage works were opened, and not until about 1900, when the works had been much enlarged, that drainage stopped causing trouble in the council. The first recreation ground, in St. John's Road, was opened soon after 1893, and in 1895, after some scandal about conditions in the council's isolation hospital at Dockwell Lane, a new hospital was established jointly with Richmond in Mogden Lane. This was replaced in 1937 by the present Isolation Hospital. In the early years of the 20th century the council began to implement a more expansive policy. It became an elementary education authority in 1902, taking over board schools both in Heston and Isleworth where boards had been formed in 1879 and 1893 respectively. The first new council school was built in 1908-9. (fn. 59) A library committee was constituted in 1902. In 1904-5 the council house and offices, library, and public baths were built in Treaty Road, and the council began to supply electricity. Although the library building had been presented by Andrew Carnegie, the result was the formation of a Reform Association in Hounslow, pledged to reduce the rates, and the party favouring economy secured a majority on the council in 1907. (fn. 60) National party names were adopted about 1926, but there was no party majority until the thirties. Thereafter the Conservatives were in the majority until after the Second World War. The last Independent resigned in 1957. (fn. 61)

The first housing estates (Worple, Warren, and Sutton Lane estates) were bought in 1919, and 25 council houses were built in 1919-20. (fn. 62) By 1939 there were 1,766, (fn. 63) and by 1957 there were 2,875 permanent houses and 464 flats on 25 estates scattered over the borough. There were also 196 prefabricated houses on 9 sites. (fn. 64) The council opened about a dozen elementary schools before 1944 when it became an 'excepted district' under the county council. Branch libraries were opened at Heston, Osterley, and Isleworth in the 1930's: the Isleworth library replaced the old parish readingroom which had been used for the purpose. A further branch was opened at Cranford in 1957. (fn. 65) Other departments expanded in the same way, and by 1928 the council staff had outgrown the Treaty Road buildings. In 1958 the council had 243 officers, divided between a number of offices, as well as about 600 servants. (fn. 66)

In 1876 the local board raised a 1s. rate on a rateable value of £74,291. In 1919-20 the rates were at 10s. (rateable value £236,309). In 1957-8 the rates were 15s. 4d., and the council spent some £2,241,000, of which about half went to the county council and the Metropolitan Police. (fn. 67)


  • 1. J.I. 1/540, m. 17.
  • 2. C 133/95, no. 14 (dorse); Syon Ho., MS. A. xiv. 1. a, ff. 9-11.
  • 3. J.I. 1/544, m. 55.
  • 4. Cal. Chart. R. vi. 91-94; Cal. Pat. 1485-94, 382.
  • 5. Ct. rolls (later bks.) from 1278 are preserved at Syon Ho. (MSS. K. ii). Up to the 17th cent. they are also on microfilms in the MSS. Dept. of the B.M. (Microfilms 403-16). Some of the 15th-cent. gaps in the Syon series are filled by S.C. 2/191/34, 35, 37-40, 67.
  • 6. Isleworth Syons Peace (1839 edn.), p. [57]; Lewis, Topog. Dict. Eng. (1831).
  • 7. Hounslow Par. Mag. 1863.
  • 8. Syon Ho., MS. K. ii. 3.
  • 9. e.g. Syon Ho., MS. K. ii. 1. b, mm. 1, 3, 5d; S.C. 2/191/39.
  • 10. M.R.O., Cal. Mdx. Recs. 1607-12, passim; Mdx. Cty. Recs. passim; M.R.O., H.T. 6.
  • 11. M.R.O., Cal. Proc. Brentford Petty Sess. 1651-1714, 103; Mdx. Cty. Recs.: Sess. Bks. 1689-1709, 15.
  • 12. Hounslow Libr., Isleworth Vestry Order and Rate Bk. 1654-1712, p. 327; Order Bk. 1818-95, 19 Sept. 1822; Hounslow Par. Mag. 1863.
  • 13. See p. 106, n. 81.
  • 14. J.I. 1/544, m. 55.
  • 15. St. Geo. Windsor, MS. ii. C. 1.
  • 16. The ct. rolls are in three places: S.C. 2/191/33, 36 (1332-8, 1430-46); St. Geo. Windsor, MSS. iii. C. 1-5 (1342-56); xv. 24. 115 (1628); St. Geo. also has the index (MS. ii. C. 16) to the ct. rolls (1627-93) held by the Ch. Commissioners.
  • 17. Lewis, Topog. Dict. Eng. (1831).
  • 18. St. Geo. Windsor, MS. xv. 24. 115: see p. 106.
  • 19. Except where otherwise noted the following paragraphs are based on the Vestry Order and Rate Bks. 1654-1722 and Vestry Order Bks. 1721-1895 among the Isleworth par. recs. in Hounslow Libr. The other par. recs. there include Poor Rate Bks. 1721-1840, Churchwardens' Acct. and Rate Bks. 1649-1866, Workhouse Cttee. Order &c. Bks. 1773-1836, Surveyors' Acct. Bks. 1723-1826, and Bd. of Surveyors' Minute Bks. 1851-74.
  • 20. C 1/391/13.
  • 21. Vestry Order and Rate Bk. 1654-1712, p. 249; Churchwardens' Acct. and Rate Bk. 1651-91, sub anno 1653.
  • 22. E 301/34, no. 153; Lysons, Environs of Lond. iii. 42.
  • 23. Vestry Order and Rate Bk. 1654-1712, pp. 249, 423, and rates for 1695, 1708: but cf. rate for 1657, and 6th Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 12, p. 361 (1822), ix.
  • 24. Vestry Order and Rate Bk. 1654-1712, pp. 249, 387, 391; 1722-40, p. 84.
  • 25. S.P. 12/108, f. 143; Syon Ho., MS. A. xv. 5. a, f. 5.
  • 26. Ret. on expenses and maintenance of poor, H.C. 82, p. 262 (1818), xix (demi-folio); cf. for other years, Ret. on expenses and maintenance of poor, H.C. 175 (1803-4), xiii (demi-folio).
  • 27. See, as well as Vestry Order Bks., e.g. 6th Rep. Com. Char. 355.
  • 28. Cf. M.R.O., Isleworth Incl. and Tithe Award maps.
  • 29. Rep. Poor Law Com. App. B (2), H.C. 44, pp. 104f-i (1834), xxxv-xxxvi; ibid. App. A (1), H.C. 44, p. 530a (1834), xxviii.
  • 30. 2nd Annual Rep. Poor Law Com. H.C. 595, p. 533 (1836), xxix (1).
  • 31. See p. 138.
  • 32. Aungier, Hist. of Syon, 180.
  • 33. 5 & 6 Wm. IV, c. 50.
  • 34. Hounslow Libr., Isleworth Par. Mag. Mar. 1888: for the reading-room, see p. 118.
  • 35. Preserved in Hounslow Libr. along with surveyors' accts. 1775-82: except where otherwise stated this paragraph is based on the min. bk.
  • 36. 10th Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 103, p. 312 (1824), xiii.
  • 37. Ibid.; Hounslow Libr., Heston Vestry Bk. 1710-82, 25 Nov. 1734.
  • 38. Rep. on Overseers' Rets. 1777, ser. 1, ix, p. 396.
  • 39. 10th Rep. Com. Char. 312.
  • 40. Ibid.; M.R.O., Heston Incl. Award.
  • 41. Ret. on expenses and maintenance of poor, (1818), 262; cf. ibid. (1803-4), for earlier years.
  • 42. Rep. Poor Law Com. App. A (1), 530a; ibid. App. B (2), 102 f-i.
  • 43. See pp. 92-93.
  • 44. Gotelee's S.W. Mdx. Annual Compendium (1847-55): copy in Hounslow Libr.
  • 45. Hounslow Libr., Song in celebration of laying foundation stone, 1858; O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. xx. 7 (1st and later edns.).
  • 46. Isleworth Vestry Order Bk. 1721-66, p. 315.
  • 47. Act for repairing road from Counters Bridge &c., 7 Geo. III, c. 88.
  • 48. Cf. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845).
  • 49. Sunday Times, 13 Jan. 1839.
  • 50. Isleworth Vestry Order Bk. 1818-95, 5 Sept. 1839, 2 Nov. 1841 et seq., 4 Mar. and 15 Apr. 1856.
  • 51. Ibid. 15 Jan. and 5 Feb. 1857, 21 Apr. 1859, 9 Mar. 1865.
  • 52. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890).
  • 53. Isleworth Vestry Order Bk. 1818-95, 3 Apr., 12 July, and 9 Aug. 1877, 7 Mar. 1878.
  • 54. Heston Hounslow and Isleworth Citizen, Jan. 1926 (copy in Hounslow Libr.).
  • 55. Mdx. Chron. 9 Jan. 1909, jubilee supplement.
  • 56. Isleworth Vestry Order Bk. 1818-95, 13 Dec. 1853; Our Neighbourhood, iv. 1-4 (copy in Hounslow Libr.).
  • 57. Isleworth Vestry Order Bk. 1818-95, 27 Nov. 1874; Mdx. Chron. 9 Jan. 1909, jubilee supplement; H. H. and I. Citizen, Nov. 1925.
  • 58. Heston and Isleworth Official Handbook (1957), 37.
  • 59. For the schs. see p. 136.
  • 60. Mdx. Chron. 9 Jan. 1909, jubilee supplement; H. H. and I. Citizen, Nov. 1925-Jan. 1926.
  • 61. Ex inf. Heston and Isleworth B.C.
  • 62. H. H. and I. Citizen, Nov. 1925-Jan. 1926.
  • 63. Heston and Isleworth, Civic Conference Handbook (1947), 3.
  • 64. Ex inf. Heston and Isleworth B.C.
  • 65. See cuttings &c. in Hounslow Libr.
  • 66. Ex inf. Heston and Isleworth B.C.
  • 67. Mdx. Chron. 9 Jan. 1909, jubilee supplement; Heston and Isleworth Official Handbook (1957), 18, 43.