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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Staines (fn. 1) lies on the east bank of the Thames, which separates it from Surrey, while the branch of the Colne known as the Shire Ditch (fn. 2) divides it from Buckinghamshire. The town lies at the narrowest point of the parish, with two wider and roughly equal portions extending to north and south along the Shire Ditch and the river. By the bridge a piece of the Surrey bank, which was once an island, forms part of the parish and is technically in Middlesex. Ashford, Laleham, and Teddington were all chapelries of Staines in the earlier Middle Ages, but a reference to the beating of the parish bounds in 1491 (fn. 3) shows that, though Ashford was still ecclesiastically dependent on Staines, it was by the nconsidered to be in some sense a separate parish and there was a fixed boundary between the two. Laleham was in a similar position, while Teddington had become independent of Staines some time before. (fn. 4) The only change recorded later in the boundaries of the parish took place in 1896 when some 70 acres north of the London Road were transferred to it from Stanwell. (fn. 5) It now covers 1,907 acres, while the Staines urban district, which also comprises Ashford, Laleham, and Stanwell civil parishes, covers 8,271 acres. (fn. 6) These three parishes were part of Staines rural district before it was dissolved in 1930. The boundaries of Ashford and Laleham underwent some alterations in 1930, and in 1934 the urban district boundary was adjusted, but the urban district area is roughly the same as that of the four ancient parishes. (fn. 7) This article is concerned with the territory of the ancient parish of Staines, though the history of the urban district council (see p. 27) includes material relating to the whole modern local government area.
The parish lies between 25 and 75 feet above sea level. The soil is gravel, except for a stretch of brick-earth north of Knowle Green and along the London Road and for the alluvium of Staines Moor and the stream beds. The gravel stretches over to Egham, and Staines is the only place west of London where it is possible to cross the Thames without leaving gravel for alluvial soils either at the river itself, as is necessary farther east, or before reaching it, as farther west where the much-flooded Colne valley lies in the way. (fn. 8)
These factors probably determined the siting of Staines Bridge, which has dominated both the history of the town and the topography of the parish. Bronze Age objects found in the river possibly testify to the antiquity of the crossing, (fn. 9) while the name Pontes, generally believed to refer to Staines, implies that the bridge existed in Roman times. (fn. 10) In 1009 the Danish army, which had been harrying the Upper Thames valley, is said to have crossed the river at Staines in order to avoid an English force assembling in London. (fn. 11) The bridge is first mentioned after Roman times in 1222, when the king gave a tree from Windsor Forest for its repair. (fn. 12) Several similar grants were made later in the 13th century, (fn. 13) and as late as 1713 a request for wood was made to the Crown. (fn. 14) In 1228 the king granted a year's pontage to the warden of the bridge, and this was renewed from time to time in the Middle Ages, (fn. 15) while on other occasions different kings gave the bridge-wardens permission to beg alms for repair. (fn. 16) According to the grants the tolls seem to have been levied only on traffic over the bridge but by 1376 they were also taken from boats passing underneath. The bridge-wardens, whose number varied, seem to have often been inhabitants of Staines, and some of the grants of pontage were made to the bailiffs and 'good men' of the town. (fn. 17) Late in the Middle Ages, when the grants became more frequent, the money was sometimes also used to repair Egham Causeway. (fn. 18) In 1509 the first Act relating to the bridge was passed, by which the lord chancellor appointed persons to take tolls and repair the bridge, and to account for their expenditure. (fn. 19) Another Act of 1597 added two men from Egham to the two appointed by the chancellor from Staines, and also entrusted the causeway to their care. (fn. 20) By 1619 the tolls were only producing £24 a year, (fn. 21) and a brief issued in the preceding year authorized the collection of money in churches in the southern counties for repairing the bridge and causeway. (fn. 22) In 1740, when the tolls amounted to £45, a third Act of Parliament provided for the election of commissioners to maintain the bridge and causeway. (fn. 23) By this time the bridge had undergone many vicissitudes. In 1549 the people of Staines prayed the Privy Council that they might not be compelled to break down the bridge to impede the rebels. (fn. 24) Since the rebels, who had risen in the west country against the prayer book, did not in the event march on London, it is probable that Staines Bridge was spared, but a century later it was destroyed in the Civil War. In 1671 it was said that after the bridge was broken down in the war, the bridge-masters had replaced it by a ferry. (fn. 25) A wooden bridge was mentioned in 1669 (fn. 26) and 1675 (fn. 27) but about 1684-7, when the bridge was rebuilt, a ferry was still working and had been doing so since the bridge was demolished. (fn. 28) The bridge was again threatened with destruction in 1688 to impede William of Orange's advance on London. (fn. 29) It was still made of wood in 1708. (fn. 30)
Under an Act of 1791 a new stone bridge was built. (fn. 31) It was designed by Thomas Sandby (fn. 32) and opened in 1797, but part of it collapsed almost immediately (fn. 33) and it was replaced in succession by a cast-iron bridge, opened in 1803, and a wooden and iron one opened in 1807. (fn. 34) The old wooden bridge remained by the side of its successive replacements and was used while they were built. (fn. 35) All these bridges spanned the river between the present Memorial Gardens and the Hythe, with Staines High Street extending to the foot of the bridge across the Town Hall site. (fn. 36) The last iron bridge became unsafe in its turn and under Acts of 1828, 1829, and 1834 (fn. 37) the present bridge was built and Clarence Street, Bridge Street, and the approaches were laid out. (fn. 38) The bridge was designed by George Rennie and John Rennie the younger, and was opened in 1832 by William IV. (fn. 39) It is of smooth rusticated granite, with brick approaches. It has three main arches, with smaller ones on each side, designed for the towpaths, though they were apparently never used (fn. 40) and are now blocked up. Tolls continued to be taken on traffic over the bridge, though most of the river tolls were commuted by the city of London in 1834. (fn. 41) All these payments were extinguished in 1871. (fn. 42) After that the counties of Middlesex and Surrey shared the cost of repair, though the new bridge in fact lay almost completely in Middlesex. (fn. 43) The wooden foot-bridge west of the road bridge was built during the Second World War, together with a temporary road bridge which has since been demolished. They were both constructed in case Staines Bridge should be destroyed by bombing. (fn. 44)
The situation of Staines on the main road from London to the south-west, combined with its proximity to Windsor, has involved the town in national affairs in other ways than by those threats to demolish the bridge which have already been mentioned. The barons assembled there before they met King John at Runnymede in 1215, (fn. 45) and Stephen Langton held a consecration there shortly after the issue of Magna Carta. (fn. 46) Kings and other important people must have passed through the town on many occasions: (fn. 47) the church bells were rung several times in 1670, for instance, when the king and queen went through Staines. (fn. 48) Purveyance of crops and beasts for the king's use is mentioned several times in the Middle Ages. (fn. 49) In the Civil War the town was occupied in 1642 by the royalist army, and later by the parliamentary forces. (fn. 50) The royalists apparently inflicted some damage, while in 1648 parliamentary soldiers were in and around Staines on free quarter. (fn. 51) Through it all, the townspeople seem to have been, if anything, slightly inclined to the royalist cause. (fn. 52) Before the war, in 1626, over 400 soldiers had lodged in the town on their way to join the Duke of Buckingham's army, (fn. 53) and in the later 17th century soldiers seem to have been regularly billetted there. (fn. 54) In 1680 Staines and Egham were mentioned as places where the horse-guards usually lodged while the king was at Windsor. (fn. 55) The traffic through Staines was naturally not exclusively military, and as early as the 13th century the number of crimes committed by passers-by is noticeable. (fn. 56) By 1589 the town was burdened by having to provide many post-horses carrying messages between the government and the west country, and casual references to the posts and postmasters are frequent later on. (fn. 57) In 1623 an improvement in the posts was called for because they took ten hours between London and Staines, but in 1601 the journey had taken under four hours and this was considered too long. (fn. 58) In 1672 the road was suffering from neglect; (fn. 59) it was turn piked in 1727 (fn. 60) and in 1831 the part in the town itself was put into the trustees' care, at a yearly charge of £25 from the parish. (fn. 61) In 1839 there was a daily local coach from Staines to London in addition to the many long-distance coaches which stopped there each day. (fn. 62) The road and bridge were comparatively little used later in the 19th century, but Staines Central Station, on the London-Windsor line was opened in 1848, and the Wokingham branch, joining the Windsor line at Staines with a bridge over the river, was opened in 1856. The curve between the two lines was constructed in 1887 and a station at the High Street was opened. This was closed in 1916. (fn. 63) The terminus of the Staines & West Drayton Railway at Staines West was opened in 1885. The present Yeoveney Station was opened in 1892 primarily to serve the rifle range nearby. (fn. 64)
The heavy traffic through Staines has helped to support a large number of inns in the town. (fn. 65) The 'George', the 'Cock', the 'Angel', the 'Swan', and the 'Hart' are all mentioned in the 15th century, (fn. 66) the 'Lion' may have been in existence about the middle of the 16th, (fn. 67) and was certainly there by 1612. (fn. 68) The 'Bush' was referred to in 1601. (fn. 69) There were between 12 and 20 licensed houses in the 18th century, and 11 for most of the 19th. (fn. 70) In 1911 there were 27 inns and hotels. (fn. 71) The 'Bush', the 'Bell', and the 'Lion' were perhaps the best known in the 17th century, and the 'Bush' and the 'Angel and Crown' were the chief posting-houses in 1839. (fn. 72) The 'Bush', at the foot of the old bridge, was also the meeting-place of the justices of the Staines division and other local bodies. (fn. 73) It was rebuilt as the 'Clarence' at the same time as the bridge. (fn. 74) The 'George', on the east side of Church Street, ceased to be an inn during the 18th century and was later pulled down. (fn. 75)
Until the 19th century the river was second only to the London road as a highway through Staines. The towpath on the Middlesex bank stopped below Staines Bridge, and continued on the Surrey side above it, giving Thames Street its former name of 'Shooting Off'. The ferry provided to replace the bridge in the 17th century was needed as much to carry over the barge-horses as to take road traffic. (fn. 76) During the 18th century, the city of London, which administered this stretch of the river, made a number of attempts to abolish the fish-weirs which impeded navigation. (fn. 77) There had been at least one weir near Staines in the Middle Ages: it was called Savoury's Weir or Deep Weir and was probably by the curve in the river near Riverside Drive. (fn. 78) The city authorities constructed the lock across Penton Hook in 1815 because of frequent floods, and a weir was later made in the old stream. (fn. 79) The only other changes in the river's course within historic times have been the disappearance of islands: the part of the parish across the river on the Surrey shore was an island as late as 1754, and in addition to it and Church Eyot there were then three islands below the bridge. (fn. 80) The city of London's authority over the Thames can be traced as far back as the 12th century, and by the 13th Staines Bridge marked the highest point of its jurisdiction. (fn. 81) The earliest reference to any boundary-mark other than the bridge itself is Speed's remark that a mere-stone once stood in Staines to show the limit of the city's authority. (fn. 82) A mark-stone stood on the bank above the town in 1613 and was moved farther from the river in 1619. (fn. 83) The present London Stone in the Ashby Recreation Ground was apparently there by 1781 and bore the inscription 'God preserve the city of London, 1285'. (fn. 84) Other inscriptions have since been added, though the city's authority over the river has passed to the Thames Conservancy Board.
Staines is the meeting-place of several roads of local importance. Of these the Kingston Road was turnpiked in 1773. (fn. 85) The trust was in financial difficulties by 1826 and was wound up in 1859. (fn. 86) The course of the Wraysbury Road was moved a little northwards in 1841-2, (fn. 87) and Moor Lane was straightened in 1891. (fn. 88) Apart from the streets in the town and tracks across the fields and moors, these, with the Laleham Road, were the only roads in the parish before the 19th century. (fn. 89) The roads laid out at the inclosure were soon surrounded by others set around them for building. (fn. 90) There were anciently three lesser bridges in Staines: just below the point where the two branches of the Colne which worked the Staines mills (fn. 91) join together before flowing into the Thames, they are crossed by a bridge in Church Street which was once known as Longford Bridge. It was mentioned in 1503, (fn. 92) and in 1826 was said to have formerly taken foot-passengers only, while carriages had used a ford beside it. (fn. 93) Hale Street forms a bridge over the more westerly of these two mill-streams, which is now known as the Wyrardisbury River. This was probably the bridge referred to in 1503 as Moor Bridge. (fn. 94) The River Ash, formerly known as Littleton Brook, flows out of the River Colne and under the London Road; in 1826 the bridge here was brick and had been built in 1822. (fn. 95) It has since been rebuilt. The only other stream of any size in the parish is Sweeps Ditch, which also derives from the Colne and forms part of the southern boundary. (fn. 96) In the Middle Ages there were some islands and weirs in the Colne and other streams as well as on the Thames. (fn. 97)
The town of Staines grew up south of the church and beside the bridge. (fn. 98) The west and east bars of the town are mentioned in the late 13th century and the east bar again in 1490. (fn. 99) The street of Staines (vicus de Stanes), the market, and Bridge Street presumably comprised what is now the western end of the High Street, the Market Square, and the site of the Town Hall. By 1723 the market-house was in the middle of the street where the Town Hall stands, and other buildings also seem to have divided the High Street. The quarter called the East End possibly covered the High Street east of Thames Road: as late as the 18th century the buildings there did not reach as far as the site of the railway bridge. Binbury is first mentioned in 1336 and Binbury Street soon after: (fn. 100) the former seems to have been applied to the higher ground round the church, which was apparently then populous. It was also known as Church End. The name Binbury Street or Row later became particularly attached to what is now the north-west end of Church Street, and Church Street and Church Lane are also mentioned in the Middle Ages. It is possible that the district around the church declined in population during the later Middle Ages. There seem to have been a good many houses there in the 15th century, but in 1593 Norden described the church as standing about a quarter of a mile from the town on a little hill by itself as if it were banished the town. (fn. 101) These districts, with the mills to the north of the High Street, comprised the medieval town: (fn. 102) the position of the manorial buildings is unknown though they may have been near the church. (fn. 103)
In addition to the town of Staines, there was a village at Yeoveney in the Middle Ages. (fn. 104) It may have lain near the Yeoveney Farm, which probably occupies the site of the old manorial buildings. (fn. 105) The hamlets of Knowle Green and Birch Green are not mentioned in the 15th-century rentals, (fn. 106) but the Town, Church End, and Knowle Green formed the three divisions of the parish in the later 17th century. (fn. 107)
It may be assumed that part of the parish of Staines lay in the tract of country which was known as the warren of Staines and stretched as far as Hampton. Staines contained extensive waste lands which must have been suitable for the preservation of game before the area was diswarrened in 1227. (fn. 108) In 1274 travellers passed through Staines wood on their way from Staines to London, (fn. 109) and in the 14th century there was woodland at Hengrove, (fn. 110) whose name later became attached to land in Stanwell lying near the corner of the London Road and Town Lane. (fn. 111) In 1535 there were 10 acres of woodland attached to the manor. (fn. 112) It probably did not survive much longer; but the commons, part of which may have been in the medieval woods, still remain extensive. In 1844 there were 381 acres of waste, (fn. 113) and the common lands preserved under the Metropolitan Commons Supplemental Act, 1880, (fn. 114) still comprise 353 acres. (fn. 115) Staines Moor (289 a.) is much the largest of these. Shortwood Common and Knowle Green (together 61 a.) and Birch Green (3 a.), in the east, were diminished in the last century. (fn. 116)
To the north and south of the town lay the fields and meadows, which never seem to have been very clearly divided from each other. (fn. 117) Though the boundary between the manors of Yeoveney and Staines is uncertain, it may be said that from a little way north of the church all the arable fields belonged to Yeoveney. They lay on the west of Moor Lane, except in the north where they probably extended across the lane north of Staines moor. (fn. 118) They were inclosed by 1649. (fn. 119) Most of the Staines fields, however, both by the church and in the south of the parish, remained open until 1845. At that date Church Field (18 a.) ran north from the church with lammas lands west of it and a small remnant of common meadow called Mill Mead (7 a.) between the two mill streams on the east. In the south Staines Field (308 a.) lay between the river and Sweeps Ditch, stretching across the Laleham Road as far north as the Shooting Off. Withygate Field (102 a.) lay between Sweeps Ditch and the Kingston Road, with inclosed lands to the north, and Thickthorns (33 a.) lay between the Kingston Road and Shortwood Common. A few acres of the open fields of Staines lay in Laleham parish, and there was also some arable land (76 a.) to the east of Shortwood which lay in Ashford Field although it was in Staines parish. A few acres of open field also survived west of Shortwood Common. (fn. 120) The general situation of the fields had been the same in the Middle Ages, though their extent was greater then, and the divisions between the adjacent fields may not have been the same. (fn. 121)
Ogilby called Staines a well-built town in 1675. (fn. 122) Church Street, which contains a number of 17thand 18th-century houses and cottages, is almost all that remains from the town as it was before 1828. Nos. 22 and 24 Church Street, which are timberframed, are probably the oldest houses in the parish. On the outskirts of the town, Duncroft House, now an approved school, was originally built in 1631, though it has been much altered and enlarged. It contains some 17th-century work inside, though part of this was probably not in the house originally. (fn. 123) Further north Yeoveney Farm was built in the early 18th century, while the barns beside it are older. (fn. 124) Between 1828 and 1832 the church and the bridge were rebuilt and Clarence Street and Bridge Street were laid out (see plates facing pp. 14, 15). (fn. 125) In 1839 the west end of the town was said to have been much improved, and small cottages had given place to buildings of a superior character. (fn. 126) None of these can have been in Bridge Street, where building did not start until rather later, but a number of the original houses survive in Clarence Street, including the stucco Literary and Scientific Institution (now the public library), which faces the bridge. The oldest part of the extensive brewery buildings in Church Street also dates from 1830. (fn. 127) The bridge in Church Street and the entrance to Thames Street were also widened at the time when the west end of the town was replanned, and the stucco Ionic front of the Congregational church in Thames Street (opened 1837, demolished 1956) contributed to the new appearance of the town. (fn. 128) The next change (fn. 129) occurred between 1871 and 1880 when the Town Hall was built. To make way for it the small spired market-house was pulled down together with a number of houses to the east. (fn. 130) This widened the street to form the Market Square and provided the site on which the Memorial Gardens were laid out in 1897. (fn. 131) The Town Hall (dated 1880) is an ornate building of white brick and stone, diversified with painted ornamentation. It has two stories, surmounted by a steeply pitched roof behind a parapet and a central clock-tower flanked by small corner towers. (fn. 132) A few 18th-century brick houses survive in the High Street, but most of the buildings there have been reconstructed or refaced at a later date. The street now presents an almost unbroken line of 20th-century shop fronts from the Kingston Road to the Market Square. Among the new commercial buildings is that of Messrs. Johnson & Clark, opened in 1956 and designed by Messrs. Kimpton & Freeman. (fn. 133)
Meanwhile the railway came to Staines in 1848, new industries began to be established in the next few decades, and the rest of the town began to grow. The hamlet of Knowle Green, around the station, was one of the first areas to expand and villas and some smaller industrial houses joined the few cottages and farms which had been there before. (fn. 134) The linoleum factory, which now covers some 35 acres north of the High Street, was established in 1864 (fn. 135) and the streets south of it were built up soon after with small terraced houses which have now mostly been demolished. Houses also began to spread along the London Road and around the west end of Gresham Road, and by the end of the century there were many houses and some shops in the Kingston Road and streets were laid out and partly built east of its north end. St. Peter's Church was built in 1894 (fn. 136) and houses in large gardens lay along the river bank as far south as Wheatsheaf Lane. In the north a little building resulted from the opening of the Staines & West Drayton Railway. (fn. 137) By the First World War many of the gaps in the 19thcentury streets had been filled. The aqueduct and pumping station were made c. 1902 when the Staines Reservoirs were constructed across the parish boundary in Stanwell, (fn. 138) the cemetery in London Road was opened in 1911, (fn. 139) and the cottage hospital in Kingston Road (now part of the Ashford Hospital) in 1914. Between the two wars building spread along the London Road, where the London Transport garage was opened in 1934. The chief area of development was to the south, around the Kingston and Laleham Roads. The 'bungalow town' of Penton Hook was in existence by 1919. (fn. 140) Since the Second World War much of the remaining land in the south of the parish has been built over. Many of the houses of Staines are detached or semi-detached, with some terraces dating from the 19th century. There are a few small blocks of flats. Most of the 20th century housing has been independently built, since nearly all the council's estates are outside Staines parish itself. Ninety-four council houses, however, were built around Worple Avenue in the 1920's. (fn. 141)
In addition to the surviving ancient commons mentioned above, the remaining open spaces in the parish include the Ashby recreation ground (15½ a., opened 1922) on part of the old lammas land by the river. (fn. 142) Some land is still used for nursery gardening and for agriculture between the Kingston and Laleham Roads, and there are allotments there and beyond Shortwood Common. The largest open area, however, is in the north, where most of the old Yeoveney manor area is still agricultural land. A rifle range was established on Staines Moor in the 19th century and was moved to the Yeoveney land west of Moor Lane in c. 1891, but it was disused by 1933. (fn. 143) Part of Shortwood Common was used as a golf-course for some years from 1890. (fn. 144)
The bridge has given Staines a rather fortuitous link with many people who have passed through the town, and with others, like William IV and the Rennie brothers, whose connexion was more deliberate. Apart from these, few men of wide fame have been connected with Staines. (fn. 145) There is no evidence to support the attribution (fn. 146) of the church tower to Inigo Jones, and its architectural style makes any connexion with him very unlikely. Sir Walter Raleigh was committed at Staines in 1603, (fn. 147) but the popular tradition that he was tried here is incorrect: the trial was held at Winchester. (fn. 148) Sir Edward Clarke (d. 1931), lawyer and solicitorgeneral 1886-92, lived at Staines for many years. (fn. 149)