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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The ancient parish of West Drayton lies almost at the western extremity of Middlesex. (fn. 1) It has the shape of an irregular rectangle, measuring approximately 1½ mile from east to west and from north to south, and contains 878 acres. (fn. 2) The western parish boundary, shared with Iver (Bucks.), is also the county boundary. The other three sides are bounded by Hillingdon to the north, Harlington to the east, and Harmondsworth to the south. West Drayton formed part of the Uxbridge rural district from 1894 until 1929, when it became part of Yiewsley and West Drayton urban district. In 1949 the civil parish was absorbed into Yiewsley and West Drayton civil parish and ceased to have any independent existence. (fn. 3)
Apart from a small area in the north-east, all the parish lies below 100 feet, on a level plain draining south and west. The soil is red brick-loam on a subsoil of gravel and valley drift, over London Blueclay, (fn. 4) and is for the most part fertile, except in the immediate vicinity of the River Colne, where the topsoil is thin.
The earliest surviving detailed and comprehensive surveys of West Drayton date from the 16th century. (fn. 5) The parish comprised then three clearly distinct zones, running from north to south. The most westerly, extending along each side of the Colne, consisted of common moorland. Next to it was a region of ancient inclosures, including within it the village, the church, all the principal manor-houses and residences, and, to the south of the village, the common meadow. East of this region, occupying about half the area of the parish, lay the open-field arable land. (fn. 6) There was still woodland in 1521 but this had been cleared by 1587. (fn. 7) This pattern, which was probably established in its essentials by the 13th century, survived intact until the beginning of the 19th century, when all the open-field and common lands were inclosed, and was only finally obscured by the housing development of the 20th century.
The chief natural feature is the River Colne, several branches of which flow through the east of the parish, from north to south. Two branches, the Drayton Stream and the Frays River, or Cowley Stream, which carries compensation water from the Grand Junction Canal, meet in the parish and continue as a united stream for a short distance before again dividing at Drayton Point. The Wyrardisbury River, also known, variously, as the Heatham Stream, the Hooke, and the Poyle Mill Stream, forms the western branch at Drayton Point, while the eastern branch is regarded as the Colne main stream. Farther south this stream divides again, giving rise to the Stanwell and Isleworth rivers. That the 'Isleworth branch', 'the malt mill stream' of Harmondsworth, is artificial, though of very ancient construction, is suggested by a 13thcentury rent paid by the Harmondsworth court to that of West Drayton 'for leading off water'. (fn. 8) The demands made upon the Colne waters by owners of the several natural and artificial streams into which its lower course is dispersed have invested the Drayton reaches with a more than local importance. Works are recorded as early as 1578 to increase the flow in the eastern channel at Drayton Point, (fn. 9) and thus in the Stanwell stream and the Isleworth Mill River (later the Duke of Northumberland's River). Further works to the same end were recommended by a Middlesex jury in 1625. The same body suggested the extension of a structure of planks which had been built at the point to regulate the division of the two streams. (fn. 10) After an inspection in connexion with his plan to cut a new river from Longford to Hampton Court, the king complained in 1638 that the 'arrow head' at Drayton was decayed and no longer maintained the customary equal division of waters, and that a larger flow was being diverted into the western stream. (fn. 11) A few years later, in 1664, licence was given to Thomas Hubbard, the miller, to build a timber weir across the western stream, near the point. (fn. 12) The principle of an equal division still survived in 1840, when it was secured by 'a wooden jetty, much worn and decayed', which ran out from the point. Plans were made in 1842 for the construction of regulating sills or weirs across both streams, (fn. 13) and one sill, across the western stream, is apparently marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1867 and its subsequent revisions. No works were apparent at the point in 1958, however, and none had been for about 40 years. (fn. 14) The other watercourses in the parish are comparatively insignificant. The Bigley, or Brickley, Ditch, in effect a branch of the Colne, forms the county and parish boundary. The Horton Brook, which crosses the parish east of the Harmondsworth Road, served until the 19th century as the common drain of Drayton open field. Another drain flowed anciently from Burroughs manor-house, in the extreme north-west of the parish, through the village to join the Colne immediately south of Drayton Point. The upper course of this had already been diverted by 1824, (fn. 15) but the section between the village and the Colne survives.
West Drayton lies midway between two important national routes: the London-Bath road to the south, and the London-Oxford road to the north. As a result the pattern of communications has always, until comparatively recent times, run from north to south rather than from east to west. Three ways appear on a map drawn in 1710: lanes south to Harmondsworth and north to Cowley, and a road or track crossing the Colne south of Drayton Mill and following the river south to join the HounslowColnbrook road west of Longford. (fn. 16) The crossing of the Colne was made either by ford, or by a bridge which was in existence in the 15th century. (fn. 17) The repair of the 'High Bridge' across the Colne, and of Oxney Bridge, leading into the moor north of Drayton Mill, was held, in the 16th century, to be the responsibility of the lord of the manor. (fn. 18) In the 17th century the tenants claimed that the lord was also liable for the repair of Hawthorne Bridge, leading to the moor south of the mill. (fn. 19) In 1587 the High Bridge was for horsemen and foot travellers only, but there was a second bridge close by for horse and cart passage, though it was in decay. (fn. 20) The High Bridge itself was allowed to fall into decay at the beginning of the 17th century, due to a quarrel between the lord and his tenants over liability for repairs, (fn. 21) and the quarrel was only resolved by a judgement of 1617, which made the tenants responsible for providing labour and the lord for providing timber. (fn. 22) The footbridge was not replaced until 1799, when the owner of Drayton Mill built a brick bridge with three arches. Its maintenance was considered in 1825 to be at the charge of the proprietor, (fn. 23) and in 1958 it had been gated within living memory. (fn. 24) By 1806 the road from the mill had ceased to run south and there was a new connexion, through Thorney, westwards to Iver (Bucks.). (fn. 25) A number of ways to the east were mapped by Rocque in 1754: Porters' Lane, following the north boundary of Drayton Field towards Dawley, and lanes leading to Harlington and Sipson through the field. The most important route at this date was the 'Royal Lane' leading from Harmondsworth through West Drayton and Colham Green to Uxbridge. (fn. 26) The pattern of road communication changed very little after 1806, and as late as 1923 there were only 5 miles of public road in the parish, and no county main roads. (fn. 27)
The origin of Drayton or 'Drægtun' village, as a 'dragging' or portage point on the Colne, has been assigned at least to the 10th century; the Colne is known to have been used as a waterway as far as Drayton up to the 16th century. (fn. 28) Palaeolithic implements of Chelles and Le Moustier typology have been found in local gravel beds, but the possibility of water-borne displacement makes this uncertain evidence for a prehistoric settlement. (fn. 29) In 1086 there were 8 villeins, 7 bordars, and 2 cottars. (fn. 30) Two 13th-century surveys seem to indicate a rapid growth in population. Thus, while in 1222 40 tenants of the manor are recorded, (fn. 31) by 1297 there were 5 freeholders and 62 other tenants. (fn. 32) For a muster which took place c. 1335 West Drayton was expected to contribute 40 footmen under two officers, or about 1/25;th of the total county force. (fn. 33) As an index of population growth this figure may be conveniently compared with the 57 'town-dwellers' mustered by William Paget about 1544, (fn. 34) before joining the Calais expedition. (fn. 35) There were 130 'houseling' people in the parish in 1547, (fn. 36) and 64 households or occupied houses in 1664. (fn. 37) At the time of the first census, in 1801, there were 98 occupied houses and the population stood at 515.
By 1557 the village had already taken on the approximate shape which it presented when the first detailed maps were made, at the beginning of the 19th century, with its houses and cottages grouped around Town Street, where the Green now stands, and Mill Lane (now Money Lane). (fn. 38) Some 16thcentury building survives, notably Old Meadows, Mill Road, of timber-frame and brick-nogging construction, (fn. 39) and the Old Shop at the north-east corner of the Green. One wing of Avenue House, by the Green, dates from the 16th century, though the main part of the house is of the 18th century. The Frays, in Money Lane, is a 15th-century timber house faced with brickwork which consists of a hall block with a gabled cross-wing. There are indications that the 16th century was a period of expansion for the village. Thus the 'new field' and the 'new row' were mentioned about 1517 in transactions of the manor court, (fn. 40) and the number of copyholders of the manor rose from 33 in 1549 (fn. 41) to 50 in 1557 (fn. 42) and 54 in 1587, (fn. 43) while the number of freeholders declined by only three in the same period. A number of buildings around the Green (see plate facing p. 190) date substantially from the 17th and 18th centuries, including the premises of Wilkins, Campbell & Co. Ltd., The Old House, Southlands, and Dr. Corkery's house, and the 'Swan'. Elmsdale House, at the centre of the east side of the Green, is a little later in date. Other 18th-century houses lie apart from the Green, among them The Copse, in Mill Road, and nos. 1, 76, and 78 Swan Road. (fn. 44) The Vicarage, in Sipson Road, is a red-brick building of the 18th century, with a 17th-century north-east wing. The Old Mill House, in Mill Road, is a large, three-story, late18th-century building of brown brick with a Roman Doric porch and a Venetian French window above it. The history of Drayton Hall is considered elsewhere. (fn. 45)
There were five inns at West Drayton by 1749. (fn. 46) There was a tavern at Drayton in 1274, (fn. 47) but none of the later inns is recorded before 1689, when the 'Crown' is mentioned: it was then known as the 'Tiger'. (fn. 48) It stood at the north end of the Green, on the west side, and was apparently a private residence in 1958. The 'Swan', which was still an inn in 1958, stood slightly to the north.
As late as 1826 West Drayton was still a lightly populated agricultural parish with its village grouped compactly round the Green, and with only isolated farm-houses and residences elsewhere. The transport developments of the first half of the 19th century ended the virtual isolation of the village and created the prerequisites for an industrial development. In 1798 the Grand Junction Canal was cut through the extreme north of the parish, and a daily packet-boat service from Uxbridge to London was started in 1801. (fn. 49) By 1824 a wharf with several warehouses existed on the south bank of the Drayton stretch of the canal, (fn. 50) on a site still used in 1958 as a timber wharf. By 1840 a penny post to Uxbridge had been opened, but there were still no regular carriers of goods or passengers between West Drayton and Uxbridge. (fn. 51) The G.W.R. main line to Bristol and the west was also sited to pass north of the village, and West Drayton Station, just over 13 miles from Paddington, was opened in 1838. (fn. 52) In 1842 there were eight up and eight down trains daily, the fastest of which completed the journey to London in 25 minutes; (fn. 53) by 1906 the fastest time had been cut to 18 minutes, although this was exceptional. (fn. 54) The opening of the station brought the telegraph to West Drayton, (fn. 55) and also resulted, incidentally, in the establishment of the first regular connexion with Uxbridge when, between 1840 and 1842, William Tollit opened an omnibus service from the George Inn to West Drayton Station, with six daily trips. (fn. 56) The first station, which lay in Hillingdon, a few yards outside the parish, was replaced between 1878 and 1881 by another on the present site, east of Station Road and next to the canal wharf. (fn. 57) Branch lines were opened to Cowley and Uxbridge in 1856, and to Colnbrook and Staines in 1884-5. (fn. 58)
While the railway encouraged horticultural specialization for the metropolitan market, brick manufacture became important on both sides of the canal, which offered the necessary facilities for cheap bulk transport. Established in West Drayton by 1845 at the latest, (fn. 59) brick-making helped to transform the aspect of the parish. A visitor in 1876 found his pleasure in its rustic charm marred by 'sulphurous and manury smells from brickfields, canals, and wharves', (fn. 60) while another considered in 1887 that although 'a parish of market gardens rather than of brickfields' West Drayton wore 'the sordid air of an industrial village'. (fn. 61) The influx of labourers for the horticultural and brick-making industries contributed towards the doubling of the number of inhabited houses between 1801 and 1881, and to a rise in the population to more than a thousand over the same period. (fn. 62) Many of the new families were housed in mean cottages, (fn. 63) on the Green and in the other old parts of the village, which were not cleared until 1935, and only one new street, Old Farm Road, was built between 1864 and 1894. (fn. 64) The rural aspect of the village gradually faded. In 1838 the first railtrippers from London could still see geese, pigs, and donkeys grazing on the Green, (fn. 65) but the annual fair was abolished in 1880. (fn. 66) May-day ceremonies were kept up until 1913. (fn. 67) The De Burgh Hunt, or Sipson Draghounds, had ceased to hunt in West Drayton parish by 1836, (fn. 68) and the last recorded 'hunting special' for meets in the West Drayton and Uxbridge region ran from Paddington in 1870. (fn. 69) More specifically suburban amenities began to develop in the second half of the century. Occasional race-meets of the West Middlesex Yeomanry led, by 1865, to the establishment of a permanent course, (fn. 70) with grandstand, 'in a large riverside meadow south of the railway'. (fn. 71) This was closed after the stand was burned down in 1877. (fn. 72) Under the management of George French, alias 'Count Bolo', a notorious swindler, it is said to have attracted criminal and riotous elements in uncomfortable numbers, (fn. 73) and it was eventually condemned by the Jockey Club. (fn. 74) West Drayton golf course was opened in 1895 (fn. 75) on Drayton moor, north of the Iver road, and probably on the site of the former racecourse. The club was extinguished by the First World War. (fn. 76) The records of West Drayton Cricket Club date from 1882: among its more recent players, in the 1930's, was Sir C. Aubrey Smith (fn. 77) (1863-1948), the stage and film actor, formerly captain of Sussex and of England test teams. (fn. 78) In the 40 years between 1881 and 1921 the population of the parish again doubled, and by 1931 it stood at 2,856. (fn. 79) The social composition of this new population was summarized by the vicar in 1927, in terms which might equally serve for a general description of modern West Drayton, as comprising 'labourers, artizans, commercial, railway, and bank clerks, a few professional persons but no gentry or people of substantial means'. (fn. 80) Its growth was accompanied by an expansion of private building which for the first time seriously affected the traditional geography of the parish. Apart from a small development on the corner of Wise Lane and the Iver road (later known as Mill Road), most of the early building took place immediately south of the station, where Bellclose, Brandville, Warwick, and Furzeham Roads and the Parade were laid out between 1894 and 1912. (fn. 81) Between 1912 and 1935 the development spread southward to Church Road and across it, with the opening of West Drayton Park Avenue, Porter's Way, and Napier Road (later Thornton Avenue). (fn. 82) To the east of Swan Road the 22-acre Drayton House estate, on which Ferrers Avenue was built, had already been laid out for building by 1924. Bagley Garden estate, laid out at the same time, comprised 12 to 14 acres of the old 'Church Croft' between Station Road, Swan Road, and Church Road. (fn. 83) Drayton Gardens and Bagley Close were built on this estate. During the same period a separate development took place south of the Green, with the building of St. Martin's Road and Close, with an adjacent group of houses on the south side of Mill Road. Residential services developed with the new building. Gas was introduced into the parish by the Uxbridge and Hillingdon Gas Consumers' Council in 1864, (fn. 84) and piped water by the Rickmansworth and Uxbridge Valley Water Company in 1890. (fn. 85) By 1923 there was main drainage, electricity (introduced by the Uxbridge and District Electricity Supply Company), and an omnibus service to Uxbridge (fn. 86) and Hounslow. (fn. 87)
The effect of the early-20th-century expansion was to transform the old centre, round the Green, from a distinct and autonomous village into a peripheral district of the new suburb of Yiewsley and West Drayton, itself centred on the railway station and the common main street formed by Station Road and the High Street. During the years which followed 1935, however, housing development was extended southward and eastward from the village over agricultural land, to provide for a new rapid advance in population, which once again more than doubled itself between 1931 and 1951, when there were 7,450 inhabitants. (fn. 88) Extensive slum clearance orders in 1935 made the need for a municipal housing scheme urgent, and the urban district council acquired and began to lay out the Bell Farm estate. (fn. 89) This was the first significant housing encroachment on the district which had formerly been the open field. A second council estate of 82 acres in Wise Lane was acquired in 1937, (fn. 90) although building did not begin until 1953. By 1958 the council had built about 1,800 dwellings on these two estates. (fn. 91) Private building also continued, especially in the neighbourhood of Sipson Road, where an estate of 300 houses had been completed by 1936, (fn. 92) so that by 1958 the entire northern half of the parish had been built over, with the exception of the Green and an island of municipal property around Drayton Hall. This included the Drayton Hall grounds, the Avenue and Closes recreation grounds, the Old Pits allotments, (fn. 93) and the cemetery. The district of former moorland to the west, and a strip of valuable arable and meadow-land to the south, remained, however, predominantly agricultural, and there were still, in 1947, more than 100 acres of horticulture, (fn. 94) some of it interspersed with residential districts. Nevertheless, West Drayton in 1958 presented the primary aspect of a suburban, residential parish, with few local industries and a population chiefly employed in London or the surrounding industrial districts. The Green still remained a distinctive feature, recalling the former village. It was reserved for the use and enjoyment of the inhabitants by the Inclosure Act of 1824, (fn. 95) and in 1899 it was conveyed by the owners of the manor to the parish council. (fn. 96) In 1958 the Green was an open space of grass and trees some third of a mile long from north to south with an average width of about 200 yards. Its character was set by the 18thcentury and earlier houses that faced it, interspersed though they were with later building (see plate facing p. 216).
Most of the notable residents of West Drayton have been occupants of either West Drayton or Drayton manors, and are noticed briefly below. (fn. 97) William Paget, later 1st Lord Paget (c. 1506-63), who founded the Paget family fortunes and built a manor-house at West Drayton, was a principal secretary of state, 1543-8, and Comptroller of the Household, 1547-50. (fn. 98) John Biscoe (c. 1613-c. 1672), (fn. 99) who owned Drayton or Colham Garden manor in 1660, (fn. 100) was M.P. for Amersham in 1658 and 1659 (fn. 101) and commanded a regiment of the New Model Army from 1655 to 1659. After the Restoration he fled abroad and joined Ludlow and other republican exiles at Lausanne in 1662. (fn. 102) William Gill (1720-98), who bought an estate at West Drayton in 1785, was Lord Mayor of London in 1789 and 1790. (fn. 103) General W. J. Arabin (d. 1828), occupant of Drayton House from 1799, served with the imperial army in Brabant during the revolutionary wars. (fn. 104) In 1871 Hubert de Burgh entertained Napoleon III and his family at Drayton Hall, at the beginning of their exile. Twentieth-century occupants of the Hall included the novelists Sir Philip Gibbs and Cosmo Hamilton, (fn. 105) and the actor C. Aubrey Smith lived for some years at Old Orchard. (fn. 106) For a few years before 1912 Henry Havelock Ellis is said to have lived at Old Meadows, then known as Woodpecker Farm. (fn. 107)