Cowley: Introduction

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.

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'Cowley: Introduction', 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. 170-172. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]


Cowley became part of the urban district of Uxbridge in 1929 and part of Uxbridge civil parish in 1937. (fn. 1) It therefore now has no separate civil existence. Before 1882, when the first important changes were made in its boundaries, the parish of Cowley covered some 300 acres lying for the most part to the south of Uxbridge, between a branch of the Colne called Fray's River on the west and the River Pinn, which runs into Fray's River on the east. (fn. 2) It was entirely surrounded by Hillingdon parish, of which the town of Uxbridge itself and Uxbridge Moor, which separated Cowley from Buckinghamshire on the west, formed part. Within the triangle formed where the Pinn and Fray's River meet, Cowley parish was so intermixed with Hillingdon that parts of it were entirely detached from the rest, while other parts, some detached, lay farther east across the Pinn. For this reason most of the more general history of the parish has been reserved for discussion with that of Hillingdon, along with the description of those parts of the village of Cowley which were in any case in Hillingdon parish.

The village of Cowley lies on a ridge (about 100-25 feet above sea-level) overlooking the Colne valley. Eastwards, after a slight drop to the Pinn, the land rises again towards Hillingdon. There is also a slope downwards to the south where the two rivers meet. Between the rivers the soil is brick-earth, though there is London clay and gravel east of the Pinn. (fn. 3) The parish boundaries owe little to natural causes, and the reason for their complexity is that they are also the boundaries of the manor: (fn. 4) in predominantly open-field country and in a district where many settlements contained more than one manor, the shape of the manor of Cowley, or Cowley Peachey, as it came to be called, was not unusual. In the Middle Ages the manor of Colham covered most of Hillingdon, including part of the small settlement of Cowley and the fields around and between the villages of Hillingdon, Uxbridge, Cowley, and Colham. (fn. 5) By 1086 Westminster Abbey owned an estate, later Cowley Peachey manor, which comprised the rest of Cowley. (fn. 6) Later, perhaps in the 13th century, (fn. 7) another estate appeared which became known as Cowley Hall. This was a subsidiary manor of Colham and, though most of its lands probably lay around the manor-house of Cowley Hall close to the village of Cowley, and though later in the Middle Ages it was for a while held by the lord of Cowley Peachey, it was not directly connected with the older Cowley manor or with Westminster Abbey. (fn. 8) In or before the 12th century Westminster Abbey or its under-tenant seems to have founded a church at Cowley, to which the tithes and dues of the abbey's lands and tenants became permanently annexed. (fn. 9) This perpetuated the boundaries of Cowley manor, which would otherwise probably have become obscured with time, as the boundaries of Cowley parish.

The church, which was in existence by the 12th century, stands near the Pinn on the eastern side of the manor: there is no evidence of a settlement of any size here, though there were probably always one or two buildings beside the church. Farther west, along the main road between Uxbridge and West Drayton, and mostly to the north of the Iver Lane turning, lay the village formerly known as Cowley Street. The greater part of this lay in Cowley parish. (fn. 10) These two small hamlets formed the main areas of settlement within the parish, though there were a few houses elsewhere, including some at what is now called Cowley Peachey. (fn. 11) This name, however, is of recent origin as applied to the hamlet, and the older name of 'Three Households' or 'Three Houses' indicates that it was not a settlement of any size: part in any case lay outside the parish bounds. (fn. 12) Stretching northwards from the church almost to the houses of Uxbridge, and eastwards from Cowley Street past the church and across the Pinn to Kingston Lane in Hillingdon, lay open-field land which was known in the 18th century as Cowley Field. Parts of this, on both sides of the stream though probably chiefly on its west bank, belonged to the manor and parish of Cowley. In the 18th century, and doubtless before, the rest belonged to Colham and Cowley Hall manors, and formed part of Hillingdon parish. (fn. 13) The largest undivided part of Cowley parish, comprising about half its total area, stretched southward from the church along the west side of the Pinn. The boundaries of this area seem to be the most clearly marked in the parish: on the west side they followed Peachey Lane (since diverted) and the Fray's River, and on at least part of the east side they followed the Pinn. By 1748 the greater part (106 a.) of the area comprised inclosed lands, attached to Cowley Peachey Farm (later Manor Farm) and belonging to the lord of the manor. (fn. 14) The farm-house was built about 1600, (fn. 15) which suggests that part at least of the land was then inclosed: it may never have been open. For some unexplained reason the survey of the parish and manor made in 1738 does not include the farm and its lands. (fn. 16) The only common-land in Cowley parish appears to have been Nomansland (about 5 a. by the 19th century) which lay east of the Pinn on both sides of the road from Cowley church to Pield Heath, an adjoining common which belonged to Hillingdon parish. (fn. 17) There seems to be no record of Cowley manor and parish having any rights over the common (generally known as Uxbridge Moor) which bordered it on the west. In addition to these various parts of the parish there was a small piece (2 a). of glebeland belonging to it on the other side of Hillingdon by Long Lane. (fn. 18) Also at Long Lane, according to the survey of 1738, were 140 acres of inclosed land: (fn. 19) these are not mentioned elsewhere as belonging to the parish, and their entry in the survey is unexplained. (fn. 20)

In 1796 Cowley Field was inclosed, with the object not only of consolidating holdings but also of consolidating the parishes of Hillingdon and Cowley, which, as the Inclosure Act declared, were 'inconveniently intermixed and separated'. (fn. 21) As a result Cowley received several blocks of land, of which the largest were connected to the part of the parish by the church and to the part at Cowley Street by roads which the inclosure commissioners decreed were to be repaired by Cowley parish and which therefore became part of it. Four parts of the field north of the Greenway were also assigned to Cowley but remained detached, and so did two others farther south by the High Street and by Maygoods Lane. (fn. 22) Nomansland, across the Pinn, also remained cut off from the rest of the parish, while the little field (2 a.) nearly 2 miles away in Long Lane remained, of course, unaffected by the award.

Under the Divided Parishes Act of 1882 the eight detached parts of Cowley were transferred to Hillingdon parish. (fn. 23) In 1894 Hillingdon was divided in two, the part within Uxbridge urban district becoming the civil parish of Hillingdon West and the part outside becoming Hillingdon East. (fn. 24) The urban district had the same area as the former local board of health district, which since 1853 had reached southwards to the northernmost boundary of the main area of Cowley parish, thus including four of the detached parts. (fn. 25) The part of Hillingdon East parish west of the Pinn was therefore entirely cut off from the rest by Cowley, and in 1895 all this part of Hillingdon East was transferred to Cowley, while the part of Cowley east of the Pinn was transferred to Hillingdon. (fn. 26) This increased the area of Cowley to 525 acres, and meant that for the first time the parish included the whole of the village and all the land south of Uxbridge between the Fray's River and the Pinn. In 1929, 33 acres in the south of the parish, bounded by the Grand Junction Canal and Packet Boat Lane, were transferred to Yiewsley parish, while 29 acres of Yiewsley, lying north of Packet Boat Lane and west of the Fray's River, were transferred to Cowley. The whole parish of Cowley, as altered, was at the same time added to the urban district of Uxbridge, and in 1937 it was finally absorbed in Uxbridge civil parish. (fn. 27)

Domesday Book records only two villeins and a cottar in Cowley manor. (fn. 28) In 1547 the parish contained 36 'houseling' people, in 1719 there were 109 inhabitants, and in 1801 the population was 214: (fn. 29) these figures do not of course include the part of the village in Hillingdon parish. Because of the division of the village, the manor and parish never constituted a real community, and the regulations made by the manorial court about the fencing of the open fields, meadows, and commons, and the stinting of the beasts pastured there, (fn. 30) were no doubt duplicated in Colham manor court. The manorial estate probably always covered a good deal of the parish and employed a fair number of the tenants. (fn. 31) During the later 19th century increasing amounts of land were given over to market- and nursery-gardens, and to brickworking. (fn. 32) About 1800 the stretch of the Grand Junction Canal through Cowley was opened, and packet-boats ran for a while in 1801 and occasionally in the next few years between Uxbridge and London. (fn. 33) The Packet Boat Inn at Cowley Peachey, licensed in 1804, (fn. 34) commemorates this episode, and a small group of buildings had appeared around two docks there by 1825. (fn. 35) The Uxbridge branch of the Great Western Railway was opened in 1856 and ran through Cowley, but there was no station here until 1904, (fn. 36) and despite the spread of building from Uxbridge in the north, the beginnings of industry at Cowley Peachey, and the three large mills just outside the western boundary of the parish, Cowley remained an almost entirely rural village until after the First World War. In 1891, just before the parish was enlarged, the population was 322. In 1901, after the enlargement, it was 869, and this had only risen to 1,170 by 1931. (fn. 37) During the 1930's there was a good deal of building, partly by Uxbridge council, and the population of the same area was 3,687 in 1951. (fn. 38) Since then a great many more houses have been built, bringing the total provided by the council to nearly 1,000 in 1959, so that much of the area east of the main road and south of Station Road has been covered, though extensive nurseries remain farther north. (fn. 39) The diversion of Peachey Lane in 1938 (fn. 40) and the blocking of Maygoods Lane about fifteen years later (fn. 41) have destroyed the old road plan of this part of the parish. A number of older buildings survive, apart from the church, Cowley House, and the Manor Farm, which are described below. (fn. 42) In the High Street, Old Vine Cottage, the 'Crown', and Maygood's Farm date from before 1700, and there are several detached 18th-century houses there, some of which may incorporate earlier work. At Cowley Peachey are two timber-framed houses: the Old Cottage probably dates from the 15th or early 16th century and is a three-bay house of which the central bay was originally an open hall. At some later date the hall was divided into two stories and a brick chimney was inserted. (fn. 43)

Few well-known people have been associated with Cowley. Barton Booth (1681-1733), actor, and John Rich (d. 1761), theatrical manager, both lived at Cowley Grove, but this house was in Hillingdon parish. (fn. 44) John Lightfoot (1735-88), naturalist, was curate of Cowley from 1768 to 1786. (fn. 45) The son of Richard Dodd, rector 1771-1807, achieved fame as a popular London preacher, and the rector's brother, William Dodd, a former royal chaplain, achieved notoriety when he was hanged for forgery in 1777. (fn. 46)


  • 1. Census, 1931 (pt. 1); Census, 1951. This article was written in 1959.
  • 2. The clearest map of the ancient parish is the first edn. of the O.S. 1/2,500 map (published with Hillingdon). See also the Cowley and Hillingdon Incl. Award and map of 1796 penes Uxbridge B.C., and the tithe map at M.R.O.
  • 3. Geol. Survey Map, sheet 255 (drift.)
  • 4. For the identity of parish and manor, see especially M.R.O., Acc. 374/2 (survey, 1738), and Uxbridge B.C. Incl. Award and map, 1796. Note also refs. to 'the church of the manor': e.g. Cal. Inq. Misc. iii, p. 86.
  • 5. For Colham, see Lysons, Mdx. Pars. 148-51, and cf. J.I. 1/544, m. 52d (Westm. Abbey holding part of Cowley); Feud. Aids, iii. 373; Cal. Chart. R. 1257-1300, 436; C.P. 25(1)/147/13/216.
  • 6. For the descent of the manor and the extent of the demesne, see p. 172.
  • 7. It was possibly the estate conveyed in C.P. 25(1)/147/ 13/216.
  • 8. Its descent is reserved for discussion with the hist. of Hillingdon parish. Some of the relevent docts. are C.P. 25(1)/147/24/498; Cal. Close, 1327-30, 373; 1337-9, 109; 1346-9, 547, 603; 1429-35, 124; 1461-8, 132.
  • 9. For the church, see p. 175.
  • 10. See, e.g. Rocque, Map. of Mdx. (1754); M.R.O., Acc. 374/2 (survey, 1738), and e.g. Cal. Pat. 1548-9, 161.
  • 11. Hist. Mon. Com. Mdx. 11.
  • 12. M.R.O., Acc. 374/2, f. 23; Rocque, Map of Mdx. (1754); Uxbridge B.C., Cowley and Hillingdon Incl. Award (1796) and Hillingdon Incl. Award (1825).
  • 13. M.R.O., Acc. 374/2; Uxbridge B.C., Incl. Award (1796).
  • 14. M.L.R. 1748/2/238.
  • 15. Hist. Mon. Com. Mdx. 11.
  • 16. M.R.O., Acc. 374/2.
  • 17. Ibid. f. 24; Rocque, op. cit.
  • 18. M.R.O., Acc. 374/2, f. 29b; cf. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. xiv. 4.
  • 19. M.R.O., Acc. 374/2, f. 29b.
  • 20. It does not seem likely that the inclusion of these lands and the omission of Cowley Peachey or Manor Farm can be linked: see M.L.R. 1748/2/238-9.
  • 21. 35 Geo. III, c. 71 (priv. act): note especially the provisions for Church Adcroft and Sudcroft.
  • 22. Uxbridge B.C., Incl. Award and map.
  • 23. Census, 1891; and cf. O.S. Maps 1/2,500 Mdx. xiv. 3-4, 7-8, 11-12 (1st and 2nd edns.).
  • 24. Census, 1901.
  • 25. Act to confirm prov. orders of Gen. Bd. of Health, 16 & 17 Vic., c. 126: the boundary there described is that shown in the 2nd edn. O.S. 1/2,500 map.
  • 26. Census, 1901; M.R.O., Rep. of local enquiry on proposed extension of Cowley par. boundary (1895).
  • 27. Census, 1931 (pt. 1); Census, 1951.
  • 28. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 130a.
  • 29. E 301/34, no. 150; Par. Rec., Reg. i (list of inhabitants); Census, 1801.
  • 30. M.R.O., Acc. 374/1.
  • 31. See p. 174.
  • 32. O.S. Maps 1/2,500 Mdx. xiv. 3, 4, 7, 11 (1st and later edns.); M.R.O., Cowley Tithe Award and map ('brick field' and 'former brick field'); Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1870); see the Cowley Brick Inn, Chiltern View Rd., and old workings on the north of the road.
  • 33. G. Redford and T. H. Riches, Hist. of Uxbridge (1885 edn.), 87.
  • 34. M.R.O., L.V. 10/126.
  • 35. Uxbridge B.C., Hillingdon Incl. Award and map, (1825).
  • 36. T. B. Peacock, G. W. Suburban Services, 4, 44.
  • 37. Census, 1891-1931.
  • 38. Census, 1951 (eccl. areas: Cowley St. Laurence); cf. p. 175.
  • 39. Personal observation.
  • 40. M.R.O., highway diversions index.
  • 41. The sch. here was opened 1955: see p. 177.
  • 42. See pp. 174, 176.
  • 43. The pre-1715 buildings are mentioned in Hist. Mon. Com. Mdx. 11.
  • 44. D.N.B. ii. 836-8; xvi. 1001-5; Home Cties. Mag. x. 133.
  • 45. D.N.B. xi. 1110-11; see memorial window in church.
  • 46. D.N.B. v. 1057, and see p. 176.