Greenford: Economic and social history

Pages 212-215

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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Twentyseven people at Greenford are mentioned in Domesday Book (fn. 1) of whom one was a Frenchman, (fn. 2) and by the early 13th century there were 47 tenants on the Westminster manor. (fn. 3) These included people at Hanwell, but did not include freeholders, such as the Greenford family, who are known to have been living in the parish. Before the census started in 1801 there are only a few indications of the population. There were said to be 100 'houseling' people in the parish in 1547, (fn. 4) and 51 householders were assessed to hearth tax or listed as exempt from it in 1664. (fn. 5) In 1801 there were 359 inhabitants. Between 1811 and 1871 the population rose slowly to 578, and after a slight fall, rose to 1,148 by 1921. During the next 30 years there was a vast increase in the population, which rose to over 14,000 in 1931, and 32,824 in 1951. (fn. 6) By 1959 the local authority considered that no further expansion would be desirable. (fn. 7)

In 1086 there was one Frenchman living on the manor, who held 1 hide and 1 virgate, and one of the villeins held the same. Four other villeins each held ½ hide, and 4 villeins and 7 bordars had 2 hides between them. There were also 3 cottars and 6 slaves. (fn. 8) Besides Alveve, the landholder, there is no mention of anyone else on the ½ hide estate which was independent of the main manor. (fn. 9) In the early 13th century there were three free tenants of the manor, two of whom each held ½ hide. Among the customary tenants were a carpenter and a smith. The others held only a few acres each. (fn. 10) During the later Middle Ages there are increasing signs of freeholders in the parish, (fn. 11) but the number and type of people living on the two subsidiary manors are quite unknown. (fn. 12) Until the mid-19th century it is probable that the population of Greenford was almost exclusively employed in agriculture. In 1841 there were 76 labourers living in Greenford who were employed by the Great Western Railway, but by 1851 they had left. (fn. 13) During the 1850's and 1860's the chemical works provided employment. During the 20th century the opening of communications by both road and rail stimulated the development of an industrial and dormitory population, and the enormous increase in numbers in Greenford since 1920 can be directly attributed to this. (fn. 14)

In 1086 there was land for 7 ploughs on the manor. The villagers had 5 ploughs, and the demesne could have supported more than the 1 plough that there was there. (fn. 15) The Frenchman held land for ½ plough. (fn. 16) The manor was assigned to the convent of Westminster in 1227 in order to provide victuals for the abbot following a dispute over his support. (fn. 17) It was managed for the abbey by a reeve in the 13th (fn. 18) and early 14th centuries, (fn. 19) but later in the 14th century it was farmed out. (fn. 20) No manorial accounts for Greenford are preserved, so that much of the little that is known of its economy in the Middle Ages is derived from the accounts of other Westminster manors. Wheat and barley were certainly being grown in the 13th century, (fn. 21) as well as rye in the 14th, (fn. 22) and hay formed another crop. (fn. 23) Sheep, cows and bullocks, and pigs were among the stock exchanged between Greenford and other Westminster manors near by in the 14th century. (fn. 24) There had been sufficient pasture for the flocks of the vill in 1086, and wood for 300 pigs. (fn. 25) Pannage is mentioned in the 13th century, (fn. 26) and in the assignment of the manor to the convent in 1227 Broadhedge, or Braddish, Wood was reserved to the abbot together with the produce of a wood opposite the smith's house. The abbot also reserved to himself the suit, service, and land of Richard, his forester. (fn. 27) Fifteen acres had been assarted by about this time. (fn. 28) In 1300 the abbot granted his wood and the services of Henry the woodward to the convent. (fn. 29) During the 14th century Greenford, and on one occasion Horsenden Wood in particular, supplied other Westminster manors with timber and faggots. (fn. 30) It also supplied mill-stones for Halliford manor in 1290-1 and 1381-2. (fn. 31) The only reference to labour-services occurs in the 13th century when the services of a man at harvest were included in a grant to the abbey. (fn. 32)

After the Reformation, when the manor had passed to the bishopric of London, Greenford was described by Norden as a 'fertile place of corn'. (fn. 33) Thirty quarters of wheat were reserved as part of the rent of the manor in 1540 and later: (fn. 34) it is not known how long this was paid in kind, but it reinforces the impression given by Norden that wheat was the principal crop, or one of the principal ones. Lysons quotes a parliamentary survey of the demesne in the mid17th century in which the arable land amounted to 289 acres, with 169 acres of meadow. (fn. 35) However, by the late 18th century there had been a pronounced swing over to the cultivation of meadow-land, and by 1800 hay was becoming the principal crop. (fn. 36) In 1775 the arable on the demesne only amounted to 98 acres and there were more than 219 acres of meadowland; in the whole parish there were only 769 arable acres to 1,022 acres of meadow. (fn. 37) Some farms were leased with a £20 penalty for each acre of meadow converted into arable. (fn. 38) By 1801 the arable had sunk to 433 acres, on which wheat and beans were the principal crops grown. Only four farmers grew more than 20 acres of wheat and none more than 30 acres, while sixteen farms were wholly grass. (fn. 39) In 1807 the schoolchildren's holiday was changed from the corn harvest to the hay harvest, (fn. 40) and in 1810 a survey of the demesne commented that 'the value of the estates would be greatly lessened' if the meadow was to be converted into arable, and advised that a clause should be inserted into future leases to avoid this. (fn. 41)

The crop rotation practised in the parish is not known, but on at least one estate in the late 18th century oats or barley were followed by grass or clover, and at least one-third of the property was to be arable. (fn. 42) The farmers had rights of common without stint for cows and horses on the open fields, and likewise for sheep on Greenford Green. (fn. 43) Earlier, in the 17th century, cottagers were only allowed to keep six sheep on the common or on the open fields. (fn. 44) Some of the demesne was commonable when the hay had been cut. (fn. 45)

Inclosures appear early in Greenford. An inclosure of land was conveyed in 1431, (fn. 46) and by 1601 the glebe had already been inclosed. (fn. 47) In 1613 there were two complaints that crowds had torn down some fences. (fn. 48) Land seems to have continued to be inclosed, however, and the manor court often ordered people to remove encroachments and fences. (fn. 49) By 1775 well over half the parish had been inclosed. This included the woods and most of the demesne lands of the manor and the large estate of Robert Child. (fn. 50) Between 1775 and 1816 the open fields lost another 40 acres, (fn. 51) and inclosed land was assessed at a third higher value than open-field land in 1805. (fn. 52) Most of this inclosure was due to the conversion of arable into meadow. Greenford was inclosed by statute in 1816, when only 612 acres remained open. This included the 47½ acres common of Greenford Green and also the waste. Only 67 acres seem to have been arable. At the time of the inclosure there were four estates of over 100 acres, of which the largest was the Court farm on the demesne. The second farm on the demesne was also well over 100 acres, but there were no buildings on the land. The other large farms were owned by the Earl of Jersey, Benjamin Way, and the devisees of John Lateward. (fn. 53) These farms had all been in existence at least since 1775, (fn. 54) and remained substantially unaltered in 1841. (fn. 55) In 1843 the parish was said to be divided into about 12 farms of which the largest comprised 221 acres, (fn. 56) but only four farmhouses were marked on the map of 1863. (fn. 57) By the beginning of the 20th century there seem to have been 7 farms. (fn. 58) By 1938 the sole remaining one was Oldfield farm, which cultivated over 150 acres, (fn. 59) but by 1959 this too had disappeared.

In the 19th century there were also, besides the large farms, between 15 and 20 smaller farms and holdings. (fn. 60) In 1831 (fn. 61) and 1854 (fn. 62) there were repeated complaints about poor soil and worse drainage, about the increase in the parish rates since 1825, and about the reduction in the price of hay and straw owing to cheaper produce being brought to London by canal. Yet in 1842, without the aid of any modern machinery, the parish produced 1,125 tons of hay. (fn. 63) By 1874 a nursery-garden had been started in Greenford, and a market-garden at Greenford Green, (fn. 64) and by 1902 there were two marketgardens. (fn. 65) One of these was still being cultivated in 1937. (fn. 66)

The demesne woods of the Middle Ages survived in the parish until the 19th century. In 1810 the woods amounted to 86 acres, but there were complaints that too much timber had been cut, and therefore that wood was scarce and the woods were no longer timber nurseries. (fn. 67) By 1825 part of Braddish Wood had been converted into meadow, and 26 acres of Horsenden Wood had been grubbed up into arable. The total of wood on the demesne had fallen to 51½ acres. (fn. 68) By the end of the century Horsenden and Perivale Woods amounted to 27 acres and they had not been reduced by 1935. (fn. 69) They were still in existence in 1959.

The first factory in the parish was built at Greenford Green in 1856. It was erected by the chemist, William Henry Perkin, who had just discovered the first aniline dye, Tyrian purple or mauve. By the end of 1857 the works were in use and were the foundation of the coal-tar industry. (fn. 70) The factory was built on the west side of Oldfield Lane, and opposite to it Perkin built a research laboratory (fn. 71) where he subsequently helped to introduce the manufacture of red-madder, or alizarin, into England. (fn. 72) This had first been discovered by German chemists, but until 1873 Perkin's dyes dominated the British market. However, by 1874 German competition had grown so intense that the Greenford Green works urgently needed to expand; their maximum production of alizarin was only 400 tons a year. (fn. 73) Therefore in 1874 Perkin sold his interest to another chemical firm, Brooke, Simpson & Spiller, and devoted himself exclusively to research. (fn. 74) By 1882 the business had been transferred again to another alizarin manufacturer, (fn. 75) and the works had been closed by 1885. This closure was the principal reason for the decline in the population at the end of the 19th century. (fn. 76) Before 1908 the buildings had been taken over by a firm of bone-boilers, (fn. 77) and by 1935 a tallow factory had been set up in them. (fn. 78) Some of the original buildings of Perkin's factory were still standing in 1959 and had been incorporated in the works of Durasteel Ltd. Occasionally in the 19th century light industries are mentioned. A brick-maker was working in Greenford in 1866, (fn. 79) and a brickfield is shown on the map at this date, (fn. 80) but no other trace of brick-making can be found in the parish.

In the 20th century industrial development started with the establishment of W. A. Bailey's glass-works in 1900. The selection of Greenford is said to have been due to ease of communications by canal and the almost certain development of road and rail communications in the near future. (fn. 81) A large munitions factory was established in the parish during the First World War, and after the war other industries came to replace it. In contrast to the pattern followed in most neighbouring suburban areas, these factories preceded housing developments: the cheap rates of a rural district, combined with transport facilities and the close neighbourhood of a labour force in the urban districts of Hanwell and Ealing, constituted the attraction of Greenford to the promoters. (fn. 82) After the extension of Ealing's boundaries in 1926 industrial development was accompanied by corresponding housing development. (fn. 83) J. Lyons & Co. Ltd. had established their factory at Greenford by 1926, when it employed 3,000 workers. (fn. 84) The factory was at first designed for teablending and later also produced tinned coffee and confectionery. (fn. 85) In 1958 a large new factory for making ice-cream was added to the works in Oldfield Lane. (fn. 86) The British Bath Company, one of the group of Allied Ironfounders Ltd., was established in 1928. Both iron-founding and enamelling are carried on at Greenford, and in 1959 the works had an output of 3,000 porcelain baths a week. (fn. 87) The Glaxo works were established in 1935. They produced infant foods and pharmaceutical products, including penicillin, and in 1959 occupied a 28-acre site and employed 2,000 people. (fn. 88) These three, together with Rockware Glass Ltd., which has developed out of W. A. Bailey's glass-works mentioned above, are the chief industrial enterprises of Greenford. Rockware took over buildings formerly used by a white-lead manufacturer some time before 1935, (fn. 89) and in 1959 occupied a 39-acre site by the canal (fn. 90) and employed 1,220 persons. (fn. 91)

During the 1930's a number of smaller firms engaged in light industries settled in Greenford, such as the manufacturers of heating and lighting appliances, yeast, wire fencing, roofing materials, wallpaper, and a small branch of a Glasgow firm of constructional engineers. Some did not survive after the Second World War, and even in 1944 it was considered that the labour available in the district had been fully employed 'some time' before. (fn. 92) A wholesale bakery was opened in 1952. (fn. 93) A ciderbottling depot was established in 1959, but this took over the buildings of the yeast factory, and was a comparatively small concern. (fn. 94) Otherwise there has been little or no industrial development since 1945, apart from expansion by the existing industries. There are also several small industries in the parish such as manufacturing stationers, printers, and similar firms. (fn. 95)

Little is known of the social life of the community before the 1930's. There is one anonymous description of Greenford in the early 20th century where the author refers to concerts in the school: 'Indeed we have even heard of an oratorio being given there with an orchestra and chorus of 40 voices.' (fn. 96) The Greenford Community Association was founded in 1939, and consists of a federation of voluntary organizations. (fn. 97) There are also various residents' associations and branches of some national societies. (fn. 98) There was a temporary health clinic opened in Greenford in 1926, and the Ravenor Park health clinic was built and opened in 1930. The Greenford Green health clinic was opened in 1936. The Perivale Maternity Hospital, Greenford, was opened in 1937. (fn. 99) Since the 1920's the section of the Ruislip Road between Greenford Road and Oldfield Lane, which is known as the Broadway, has been developed as a small shopping centre. It includes several branches of chain stores, of which, for instance, Boots opened about 1930 and Woolworth's in 1931. (fn. 100) The nearest large general shopping area, however, is at Ealing.


  • 1. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 128.
  • 2. Ibid. 130b.
  • 3. B.M. Add. Ch. 8139.
  • 4. E 301/34, no. 179.
  • 5. M.R.O., H.T. 6.
  • 6. Census, 1801-51. From 1891 to 1951 the figures given are those for the ecclesiastical parish.
  • 7. Ex inf. Ealing B.C.
  • 8. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 128.
  • 9. Ibid. 130b.
  • 10. B.M. Add. Ch. 8139.
  • 11. See p. 211.
  • 12. See p. 210.
  • 13. Census, 1851.
  • 14. Census, 1851-1951.
  • 15. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 128.
  • 16. Ibid. 130b.
  • 17. Westm. Domesday, f. 632.
  • 18. W.A.M. 9298.
  • 19. W.A.M. 27019.
  • 20. W.A.M. 9301.
  • 21. B.M. Add. Ch. 8139.
  • 22. W.A.M. 9298, 9301.
  • 23. B.M. Add. Ch. 8139.
  • 24. W.A.M. 27012, 27181, 27188; S.C. 6/918/22-24; /919/3-6, 9-11; B.M. Harl. Roll BB. 23.
  • 25. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 128.
  • 26. B.M. Add. Ch. 8139.
  • 27. Westm. Domesday, f. 632.
  • 28. B.M. Add. Ch. 8139.
  • 29. Westm. Domesday, ff. 129-30.
  • 30. W.A.M. 9298, 27019, 27022*, 27030, 27033, 27036, 27038; S.C. 6/918/23-24.
  • 31. W.A.M. 27012, 27038.
  • 32. Westm. Domesday, f. 567.
  • 33. J. Norden, Spec. Brit. pt. 1, Mdx. p. 21.
  • 34. See p. 210.
  • 35. Lysons, Environs of Lond. ii. 438.
  • 36. Par. Rec., School Min. Bk. 1784-1885.
  • 37. King's Coll. Camb., Greenford Survey Bk.
  • 38. M.R.O., Acc. 473/bundle 5.
  • 39. H.O. 67/16.
  • 40. Par. Rec., School Min. Bk. 1784-1885.
  • 41. Ch. Com. recs. 131454.
  • 42. M.R.O., Acc. 473/bundle 5.
  • 43. Ibid. 7.
  • 44. S.C. 2/190/22.
  • 45. Ch. Com. recs. 131454.
  • 46. C.P. 25(1)/152/87/43.
  • 47. Guildhall MS. 9628.
  • 48. St. Ch. 8/140/4; /197/14.
  • 49. S.C. 2/190/21, 23.
  • 50. King's Coll. Camb., Greenford Survey Bk.
  • 51. M.R.O., Greenford Incl. Award.
  • 52. Par. Rec., Vestry Min. Bk. 1800-33.
  • 53. M.R.O., Greenford Incl. Award; Ch. Com. recs. 131454.
  • 54. King's Coll. Camb., Greenford Survey Bk.
  • 55. M.R.O., Greenford Tithe Award.
  • 56. H. Tremenheere, 'Agric. and Educ. Statistics of several Mdx. pars.' Jnl. of Statistical Soc. of Lond. vi. 120-30.
  • 57. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. x. 15; xv. 3-4, 7-8 (1st edn.).
  • 58. Ibid. (3rd. edn.).
  • 59. Ibid. (revised edn.); Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1937).
  • 60. M.R.O., Greenford Incl. and Tithe Awards.
  • 61. Ch. Com. recs. 131452.
  • 62. Ibid. 131453½.
  • 63. Jnl. Statistical Soc. of Lond. vi. 120-30.
  • 64. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1874).
  • 65. Ibid. (1902).
  • 66. Ibid. (1937).
  • 67. Ch. Com. recs. 131454.
  • 68. Ibid. 131452.
  • 69. O.S. Maps 1/2,500 Mdx. xv. 4 (2nd and later edns.).
  • 70. Encycl. Brit. (11th edn.), xxi. 173.
  • 71. Perkin Centenary, London (copy in Ealing Libr.), 18.
  • 72. D.N.B. (2nd Suppl.).
  • 73. Perkin Centenary, 35.
  • 74. D.N.B.
  • 75. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1882).
  • 76. Mdx. Cty. Times, 30 May 1885.
  • 77. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1908).
  • 78. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. xv. 3 (revised edn.).
  • 79. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1866).
  • 80. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. xv. 3 (1st edn.).
  • 81. Ex inf. Rockware Glass Ltd.
  • 82. TS. Rep. of Local Enquiry on Extension of Ealing, 1926 (penes Mr. J. L. Petingale, Hon. Sec., Gter. Ealing Local Hist. Soc.).
  • 83. See p. 208.
  • 84. TS. Rep. of Local Enquiry, 1926.
  • 85. Ex inf. J. Lyons & Co. Ltd.
  • 86. The Times, 15 May 1958.
  • 87. Ex inf. British Bath Co. Ltd.
  • 88. Kemp, Dir. Ealing (1959).
  • 89. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. xv. 3 (revised edn.).
  • 90. Kemp, Dir. Ealing (1959).
  • 91. Ex inf. Rockware Glass Ltd.
  • 92. P. Abercrombie, Gter. Lond. Plan, 1944, 147.
  • 93. Ex inf. Garners Ltd.
  • 94. Ex inf. Showerings Ltd.
  • 95. Greenford and District Chamb. of Trade Year Bk. (1958): copy in Ealing Libr.
  • 96. Ealing Libr., E. 914/2191/10631.
  • 97. Your Neighbourhood, Community Service (copy in Ealing Libr.).
  • 98. Kemp, Ealing Dir. (1959).
  • 99. F. W. Scouse, Ealing, 1901-51 (copy in Ealing Libr.).
  • 100. Ex inf. managers.