Twickenham: Economic and social history

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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'Twickenham: Economic and social history', 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, (London, 1962) pp. 151-155. British History Online [accessed 29 February 2024]


There is no reliable evidence from which to assess the number of people in Twickenham during the Middle Ages. The first figure relating to Twickenham apart from the rest of Isleworth manor is the estimate of 210 'houseling' people in the parish in 1547. (fn. 1) In Twickenham 219, and in Whitton 29, households or houses were assessed to hearth-tax in 1664, or were listed as exempt from it. (fn. 2) There is evidence that the population was growing fast at about this time. (fn. 3) The increase was connected at least in part with that accession of fashion to the village which became such a marked feature of the 18th century. In 1801 the population was over 3,000 and this grew fairly steadily to over 5,000 in 1841. The coming of the railway in 1848 inaugurated the first great period of growth: by 1871 the population stood at over 10,500, and after a slight decrease in the rate of expansion it rose between 1881 and 1911 from nearly 12,500 to over 29,000. In 1891-1901 the increase was nearly 25 per cent. and in 1901-11 it was nearly 40 per cent. The third great period came with the building-up of Whitton and of the gaps in the rest of the town which began in the late 1920's. In 1931 there were nearly 40,000 people in the area of the old parish and in 1951 there were over 61,000. (fn. 4)

The medieval economic history of Twickenham belongs to the history of Isleworth manor and is discussed with it elsewhere. (fn. 5) The chief difference between Twickenham and the rest of the manor may have been in the comparative dearth of freeholders, except in Whitton, (fn. 6) and in the performance of mowing services by the Twickenham tenants in the demesne meadows here instead of at Isleworth. (fn. 7) Labour services were still owed to the emergent manor of Twickenham in the 15th century. (fn. 8) There is no record of inclosure in the parish before the 17th century, except for the making of the king's park, which was alleged to have been taken from arable in the 15th century: in fact most if not all of it had been the lord's park since the 13th century. (fn. 9) When inclosures came, they were made for fruit-farming, which spread rapidly during the 17th century, (fn. 10) as it did in Isleworth, though apparently with fewer consequent disputes about tithe than arose there. (fn. 11) Vincent Corbett or Poynter (d. 1619), the father of Richard Corbett, the poet and Bishop of Norwich, lived in the parish and was a well-known gardener and an expert tree-grafter. (fn. 12) The name of Strawberry Hill, which occurs in 1631, (fn. 13) may indicate that strawberries had been grown there at some time. In 1635 there were some acres of nurseries and orchards at the west end of Richmond Road. (fn. 14) In 1650 the grounds of the manor-house were 'plentifully planted with curious and various sorts of fruit trees, roots, plants, and flowers' and those of a house or on near the site of the later Orleans House were particularly rich in cherry trees. (fn. 15) In the early 18th century the garden at the latter house was one of the finest in England and included a notable vineyard, and a little later the owner of a house at Twickenham Common grew particularly good grapes. (fn. 16) The first weeping willow in England is said to have been grown at Twickenham Park at the beginning of the 18th century and another early specimen was a feature of Pope's garden. (fn. 17) These and other pleasure grounds covered most of the river-bank and a good deal of land in the rest of the parish by the late 18th century, but Lysons estimated that there were also 150 acres of fruit gardens 'among the arable' in 1790. (fn. 18) Remnants of the open fields survived until 1818, together with the common, which probably provided the necessary grazing for some small subsistence farmers. (fn. 19) It is likely that any uniform system of exploiting the open fields had disappeared before this. In 1622 the inhabitants of Twickenham used certain lands to support a bull for the common use. Before the end of the century the lessee paid a money rent instead of keeping the bull, and later the lands were lost altogether. In Whitton there was a similar arrangement, which lapsed probably early in the 18th century. (fn. 20)

Ironside, writing between 1780 and 1797, said that many raspberries and strawberries were sent to the London markets and that early peas were grown in quantity on the more open inclosures. He also referred in general terms to the production of early flowers and fruit. (fn. 21) In 1801 the estimated crops, presumably excluding fruit and flowers, included nearly 250 acres of grain, 89 of peas and beans, 10 of potatoes, and 58 of turnips. (fn. 22) In 1846 there were 761 acres of meadow or pasture, and 966 acres of arable as distinct from market-gardens (184 a.) and pleasuregrounds (261 a.). Most of the market-gardens were then on the north and north-east of the town, between Richmond Road and Whitton Road, and as the century advanced they spread, partly because of building round the town, into the former arable and mixed farmland between Whitton and the Crane. (fn. 23) At the end of the century it was said that one of the first commercial producers of forced strawberries had been a man named Smith in Twickenham. He had been growing them before 1850, and there was another grower there soon after, but by 1899 most of this particular branch of the industry was in Kent, though some remained around Twickenham. (fn. 24) In 1899 wallflowers and other flowers were grown under the fruit trees of the parish, and Whitton was noted for roses, narcissi, and lilies of the valley, some grown under glass. Whitton was also noted for apples, plums, and pears, and one grower had tomatoes and cucumbers under glass. A holding of some 160 acres in the parish was said to embody a good example of the old fruit plantations of the Thames valley; it had between 50 and 60 acres of fruit and nearly 10 acres of narcissi and other flowers, mostly grown in the open. (fn. 25) Since then both farms and gardens have largely disappeared: between 1920 and 1926 the number of cows in the district dropped from 80 to 9, though there were still 21 piggeries in 1926. (fn. 26) Kelly's Directory of 1845 lists 6 farmers and 9 market-gardeners, and in 1911 nearly 300 men worked in market-gardens and another hundred in other kinds of agriculture. In 1951 all forms of agriculture employed some 350 men and 140 women, but there were only 13 horticultural holdings in 1947, covering 19 acres of land. (fn. 27)

Twickenham's 18th-century fame as
'Twit'nam, the Muses' fav'rite seat,'
Twit'nam, the Graces' lov'd retreat'
is still well remembered, and Pope and Walpole in particular have left their names to suburban roads. (fn. 28) Persons of fashion had begun to take houses in Twickenham in the preceding century, and in its early years John Donne had visited the Countess of Bedford (d. 1627) at 'Twicknam Garden' (Twickenham Park). (fn. 29) It should perhaps be remembered that in some ways 18th-century Twickenham was only a particularly literary suburb of Richmond, which was even richer in the dowagers whom Walpole described inhabiting all around 'as plenty as flounders'. (fn. 30) There was a theatre, which stood in 1762 between Strawberry Hill and the town, on the east side of either King Steeet or the north end of Cross Deep, (fn. 31) and the summer company of the Richmond theatre played here regularly for several years about 1750. (fn. 32) Playbills, presumably of the same theatre, survive from 1825 and 1847. (fn. 33) The river also brought pleasure-seekers of various sorts to the neighbourhood. In 1745 the frequenters of disorderly entertainments in a moored vessel called the Folly, possibly lying near Orleans House, (fn. 34) affronted the persons of fashion and distinction who were said to walk there in the evenings. (fn. 35) Glover marked a former bowling alley in the middle of Twickenham Ait, and there was an inn there by 1743, (fn. 36) though the ait's fame as Eel Pie Island does not seem to be discernible before the end of the 18th century. During the 19th it was a popular resort for steamer excursions, though opinions differed about the effect on its prosperity when a new inn was built in 1830 to replace what was alternatively called the 'dingy wooden cottage' or the 'unassuming but popular little barn'. (fn. 37) Founded in 1860, the Twickenham Rowing Club was among the oldest on the river. (fn. 38) Regattas have been held, sometimes jointly with Richmond, since the late 19th century, (fn. 39) boat-hiring businesses were started, the acquisition of Marble Hill and the meadows opposite, and later of Orleans Park, by various public, bodies threw more of the banks open to the public, and new ferries were provided to link these riverside walks together. (fn. 40) The river was also of course an important traffic route for more serious business: Horace Walpole referred to the 'barges as solemn as barons of the Exchequer' which moved under his window, (fn. 41) but the towpath was on the Surrey side of the river at Twickenham, (fn. 42) and most of the barges went straight past the village.

According to Letitia Hawkins, Twickenham had lost its title of classic when her father, Sir John Hawkins, moved there in 1760, but it was 'still the abode of many distinguished persons'. Although the village lost the unique character of its 18th-century fame, the big houses continued to be occupied by persons of fashion and note. Pre-eminent among these was the Countess Waldegrave (d. 1879), whose Saturday to Monday parties at Strawberry Hill were a dominant feature of the London season for many years from 1856. (fn. 43) A particular feature of Twickenham was its evident attraction for exiled royalty: Louis Philippe lived at Orleans House during his first exile and from 1852 to 1871 the house was the centre of a group, including York House and Mount Lebanon, occupied by members of the French royal family. (fn. 44) The former King Manoel of Portugal lived at Fulwell Park for some years before his death in 1932. (fn. 45) For several years after the Duke of Aumale had left Orleans House it was used as what appears to have been an early and fashionable type of country club. (fn. 46) In 1958, though the population of the older areas was now greatly outnumbered by the new working-class and middle-class suburbs, a few of the old riverside houses and terraces were still in private ownership. Among recent residents was Walter de la Mare, who lived at South End House for some time before his death in 1956. (fn. 47)

Beneath the surface of upper-class society Twickenham was not a trading centre of more than parochial significance, and as it grew in the 19th century it lost such social coherence as it may have possessed earlier. According to Ironside's History the magistrates had suppressed two fairs some years before 1797, and pleasure fairs were held in the 19th century until the local board prohibited them again, but there is no evidence that these were of ancient origin. (fn. 48) The more usual chain-stores arrived in London Road and King Street in the early 20th century. (fn. 49) In 1958 the shops in the centre of the town differed in number and size rather than in kind from those at St. Margaret's, for instance, while those in the High Street at Whitton (formed in the 1930's (fn. 50) ) almost rivalled them. The inhabitants of Twickenham continued as in the past to rely on Richmond for many purposes, though the newer shopping centre of Hounslow also served the western half of the parish. (fn. 51) The first cinema seems to have been opened by 1912 near the later Gaumont in Richmond Road. (fn. 52) The Gaumont itself was closed about 1956, leaving three cinemas within the boundaries of the old parish. (fn. 53) Apart from the clubs connected with the river, there were two 19th-century cricket clubs, of which one, founded in 1833, still survived in 1958. (fn. 54) Horace Walpole's predecessor at Strawberry Hill had 'instituted certain games called cricketalia in a neighbouring meadow. (fn. 55) A mid-19thcentury literary and scientific institute does not appear to have been long-lived, (fn. 56) though a similar society existed between 1891 and 1928 and was encouraged in its early years by Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff of York House. (fn. 57) There was a working-men's club and institute in 1869 and 1902. (fn. 58) Another 19thcentury institution, though in this case not the product of any communal interest in the town, was Thomas Twining's 'Economic Museum' at Perryn House, which from 1856 to 1871 housed an exhibition relating to 'domestic and sanitary economy'. (fn. 59) Among locally influential groups of the 20th century have been the debating society called the Twickenham House of Commons (1908-39) and the York House Society (founded 1922). (fn. 60) Elizabeth Twining (d. 1889), among other charitable activity, founded St. John's Hospital, which after some litigation became the usual type of local hospital managed by the local doctors. (fn. 61) A number of local newspapers and magazines have been started or projected since 1868 but none has continued publication for long, and the Richmond and Twickenham Times, with the Thames Valley Times, has always been published from Richmond. (fn. 62)

Farming and gardening were virtually the only industries in the parish until the 18th century, except for the fishing which the river provided. There were a number of fish-weirs until the mid-18th century at least, and until the mid-19th there was a prosperous lampern fishery. (fn. 63) There was also a commercial fishhatchery in the mid-19th century, which used water from the Crane. (fn. 64) Two mills on the Crane were started in the 18th century and both worked on a large scale for some time, making oil and gunpowder, the powder-mill continuing until the 20th century. (fn. 65) The brewery by the bridge over the Crane in the London Road was at work by 1635 in the possession of the Cole family, who owned it until the late 19th century. In 1635 it seems to have been on the southeast of the bridge, whereas later it stood on the northwest, between the Crane and Heatham House, where members of the family lived at different times. (fn. 66) They also occupied other houses near by. (fn. 67) The brewery had been acquired by Brandon's of Putney by 1900 and closed down by 1927, shortly before the borough council bought the buildings as a depot. (fn. 68) Brick-earth was dug east of the town in the 17th and 18th centuries, but at least part of it was used to build houses in the same area, (fn. 69) and there does not seem to have been any large-scale working. Sand and gravel were excavated in Twickenham Park in the early 20th century, (fn. 70) and gravel in Orleans Park a little later. (fn. 71) The only other industrial activity of the 18th century, apart from Horace Walpole's printing-press, was the first manufactory of vitriol in England, which was established in a house on the common about 1736. The smell annoyed people nearby and the laboratory was removed within a very few years to Richmond. (fn. 72) There were two or three other breweries in the 19th century, and a few factories or workshops, of which the chief was probably Corben's carriage works on the corner of Oak Lane and Richmond Road. The laundries found in many of the London suburbs appeared at the end of the century. (fn. 73) Since then light engineering and similar industries have increased in the way characteristic of west Middlesex, though to a much less marked degree than in some neighbouring areas: Twickenham re mains largely a dormitory area for London and the nearer industrial districts. (fn. 74) In 1921 there were 65 offices, workshops, and factories in the old parish area. (fn. 75) In 1958 there were confectionery, rubber, printing, engraving, electronic and photographic works, and several boat-builders and allied undertakings. (fn. 76) One engineering firm had over 500 employees, three more had between one and two hundred, and perhaps a score had fewer. None of the firms engaged in other types of industry employed over 100 persons. (fn. 77) The buildings at Cambridge Park now (1958) used partly as a skating-rink and partly by several industrial firms were formerly occupied by a First World War aircraft factory. (fn. 78) The Alliance Film Studios at St. Margaret's were opened in 1911 and resumed production after closing during the Second World War. (fn. 79)


  • 1. E 301/34, no. 188: for earlier figures relating to Isleworth manor, see p. 114. The two 14th-cent. rentals used there do not distinguish sufficiently clearly between the different villages to provide useful separate estimates.
  • 2. M.R.O., H.T. 6, mm. 21-23.
  • 3. See p. 142; Cobbett, Mem. of Twickenham, 23, citing faculty for rebuilding church.
  • 4. Census, 1801-1951. The figure for 1951 is that of the parishes of the C. of E. churches, which were together approximately equal to the old par.: Census, 1951 (ecclesiastical areas). For the building-up of the town, see p. 145.
  • 5. See pp. 115-16.
  • 6. See pp. 147-8, 150-1.
  • 7. Syon Ho., MS. A. xiv. 1. a, f. 20.
  • 8. S.C. 2/191/26.
  • 9. See p. 96.
  • 10. Cf. Glover, Map of Isleworth Hundred (1635); Rocque, Map of 10 miles round Lond. (1746); and M.R.O., Twickenham Incl. Award; see also, e.g. Twickenham Libr., deed of 1669 (mortgage of land in Hither South Field).
  • 11. Though see Cal. Proc. Brentford Petty Sessions, 1651- 1714, 10.
  • 12. Lysons (Environs of Lond. iii. 558n.) thought that 'Richard' Poynter and Vincent Corbett were two persons: but see Gent. Mag. 1812, lxxxii (1), 14-16, and Poems of Ric. Corbett, ed. Bennett and Trevor-Roper, pp. xi, 67-68. The evidence on which Vincent Corbett is said (Poems of Ric. Corbett, loc. cit.) to have lived at Whitton is, however, unknown: cf. Syon Ho., MS. K. ii. 3, 10 Apr. 1635, 29 Apr. 1636; and Glover, op. cit.
  • 13. Twickenham Par. Rec., Vestry Min. Bk. 1674-1729, f. 19.
  • 14. Glover, Map of Isleworth Hundred (1635).
  • 15. E 317/95, ff. 3-4; /96, ff. 2-3; and see, for 1694, J. Lewis, Mem. of Duke of Gloucester (1789), 26.
  • 16. Defoe, Tour through Gt. Brit. ed. Cole, i. 392; Cobbett, Mem. of Twickenham, 338-9, citing Ironside; Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Toynbee, ix. 44-45.
  • 17. L. A. Anderson, Coming of the flowers, 113-14.
  • 18. Environs of Lond. iii. 558-9. Lysons probably knew Twickenham well: D.N.B. xii. 361.
  • 19. See p. 140.
  • 20. 8th Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 13, pp. 401-2 (1823), viii; but cf. Lysons, Environs of Lond. iii. 601.
  • 21. Hist. and Antiq. of Twickenham, 112; cf. Lysons, op. cit. iii. 558-9.
  • 22. H.O. 67/16.
  • 23. M.R.O., Tithe Award; O.S. Maps 1/2,500 Mdx. xx. 10-12, 14-16 (1st and later edns.); M.R.O., Acc. 204 (sale particulars of land at Whitton, 1904, and especially lot 8).
  • 24. Cf. Thorne, Handbook to Environs of Lond. ii. 640.
  • 25. W. E. Bear, 'Flower and Fruit Farming in Eng.' Jnl. R. Agric. Soc. ser. 3, ix. 516-17; x. 40-41, 282, 300.
  • 26. Twickenham B.C. Looking Backward: Charter 21st Anniversary, 5.
  • 27. Census, 1951; L. G. Bennett, Hortic. Industry of Mdx. (Reading Univ. Dept. of Agric. Econ. misc. studies no. 7), 38.
  • 28. Their connexion with Twickenham has been much described and Cobbett's Mem. of Twickenham has a good deal about them, including the text of Walpole's poem, 'The Parish Register of Twickenham', from which these lines are taken.
  • 29. Poems of John Donne, ed. H. J. C. Grierson, 26. For the earlier villas, see pp. 141-4.
  • 30. Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Toynbee, ii. 279. Boswell's disparagement of the society he found there should be discounted, especially as his lodgings were only near Twickenham: Life of Johnson, ed L. F. Powell, ii. 120.
  • 31. Gent. Mag. (1852) cxxx. 488.
  • 32. N. & Q. 15th ser. clxxiii. 290-4, 312-15, 328-30; Horace Walpole's Correspondence, ed. Lewis, ix. 70.
  • 33. At Twickenham Libr. The theatre is not marked in the incl. map.
  • 34. See Folly Lane in Rocque, Map of 10 miles round Lond. (1746).
  • 35. City R.O., Repertory 149, f. 273.
  • 36. M.R.O., L.V. 6/66.
  • 37. Mirror of Literature Amusement and Instruction (1843), 389-90; Thorne, Handbook to Environs of Lond. (1876), ii. 642.
  • 38. V.C.H. Mdx. ii. 289.
  • 39. Twickenham Libr., regatta programmes.
  • 40. The Times Law Reports, xxix. 465; Law Reports [1916], 1 A.C. 57-123.
  • 41. Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Toynbee, iii. 166.
  • 42. See p. 140.
  • 43. Cobbett, Mem. of Twickenham, passim; O. W. Hewett, Strawberry Fair, 121, 127, et passim.
  • 44. See pp. 149, 150, and Cobbett, op. cit. 369-70.
  • 45. The Times, 4 July 1932, p. 14.
  • 46. J. Astley, Fifty Years of my Life, 284-6.
  • 47. The Times, 23 June 1956, p. 10.
  • 48. Cobbett, Mem. of Twickenham, 393; Twickenham Libr., press-cutting of letter from clerk, 1868.
  • 49. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1902, 1914, 1922).
  • 50. See p. 146.
  • 51. Personal observation and ex inf. Alderman Mrs. E. Jamison; see also Mdx. Cty. Development Plan, 1951, 80-81 and Census, 1911-21.
  • 52. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. xx. 16 (3rd edn.).
  • 53. Local information and personal observation.
  • 54. Twickenham Cricket Club, First 100 Years, 1833- 1933 (copy in Twickenham Libr.).
  • 55. Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Toynbee, ii. 280.
  • 56. Census, 1851: Education [1692], p. 223, H.C. (1852-3), xc; Twickenham Libr., programmes of lectures 1857-9.
  • 57. Twickenham Libr., programmes of lectures; M. G. Duff, Victorian Vintage, p. xiv.
  • 58. Twickenham Libr., press cutting, 1869; Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1902).
  • 59. Cobbett, Mem. of Twickenham, 364-5; for the Twinings see also D.N.B. xix. 1314-16; the hospital, below; and p. 158.
  • 60. Twickenham B.C. Looking Backward: Charter 21st Anniversary, 13.
  • 61. Char. Com. files (rep. on Twickenham charities, 1898).
  • 62. See broadsheets and files in Twickenham Libr., and B.M. Newspaper catalogue.
  • 63. Cobbett, Mem. of Twickenham, 392-3. For the weirs, &c. see p. 139.
  • 64. Illus. Lond. News, 19 Mar. 1864; cf. D.N.B. vii. 605.
  • 65. For the mills, see p. 151.
  • 66. Glover, Map of Isleworth Hundred (1635); Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 722-3; E 178/6337 (for a witness named Thos. Cole, a brewer); M.R.O., Twickenham Incl. and Tithe Awards; Cobbett, Mem. of Twickenham, 366.
  • 67. Cobbett, op. cit. 363-7, 368.
  • 68. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1902). In 1890 it was Burrows & Cole's brewery: ibid (1890); Richmond and Twickenham Times, 26 Nov. 1927; see p. 157.
  • 69. E 178/6337; Glover, Map of Isleworth Hundred (1635), marks what look like brick-kilns in East Field; M.R.O., Twickenham Incl. Award (old incl. no. 722).
  • 70. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1922).
  • 71. See p. 150.
  • 72. H. W. Dickinson, 'Hist. of Vitriol manufacture in Eng.' Trans. Newcomen Soc. xviii. 46; Letitia Hawkins, Anecdotes, &c. i. (1822), 77.
  • 73. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845-1902); O.S. Maps 1/2,500 Mdx. xx. 15, 16 (1st and 2nd edns.); Twickenham Libr., photograph of Corben's factory.
  • 74. See Census, 1921, 1951 (usual residence and workplace).
  • 75. Census, 1921.
  • 76. See Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1902-37); Kelly's Dir. Twickenham (1940); Twickenham Tatler, 9 and 23 Oct., 13 and 20 Nov. 1953; Richmond and Twickenham Times, 1 Jan., 18 June 1955; Surrey Comet, 12 Oct. 1957.
  • 77. Ex inf. Ministry of Labour, Richmond Employment Exchange.
  • 78. Twickenham Libr., press-cutting, 1917; Richmond and Twickenham Times, 8 Oct. 1927.
  • 79. Ex inf. Alliance Film Studios.