Hanwell: 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.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.

'Hanwell: 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. 226-228. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol3/pp226-228 [accessed 1 March 2024]


Very little is known about the village of Hanwell in the Middle Ages. Seventeen persons were mentioned in connexion with the manor in Domesday Book: (fn. 1) this figure may have included people at New Brentford. (fn. 2) After 1086 Hanwell became part of Greenford manor, and what little is known of Greenford's medieval agrarian history presumably applies also to Hanwell. This suggests that the people of the village were largely occupied in subsistence arable farming, and that wheat may have been a principal crop. (fn. 3)

In 1649 four persons cultivated between 75 and 100 acres of land, and six between 35 and 50. (fn. 4) During the 18th century the ownership of land became more concentrated than before, (fn. 5) but the units of cultivation remained small and in 1780, as an old inhabitant remembered 60 years later, there were seven farms and at least half the land was in tillage. (fn. 6) In 1801 408 acres out of 1129 (fn. 7) were said to be arable, with wheat (143 a.) and beans (127 a.) as the chief crops. The 594 acres reported to be pasture (excluding 127 a. waste) seem to have included Hanwell Park and the smaller pleasuregrounds of other houses. (fn. 8) About 147 acres of open field survived until 1816, and more arable was probably indirectly preserved by the consequent prevalence of subsistence farming, which was also encouraged by the existence of the common (c. 96 a. in 1816) and common meadow (38 a. in 1816). (fn. 9) There was common pasture on the open fields after harvest and on the common meadows after lammas, but in the late 18th century this was not 'exercised to the detriment of the occupying tenant', a statement which implies that tenants of open-field land did not always follow the same course of husbandry. (fn. 10) The common was said in the course of a Star Chamber suit of 1613 to be so over-burdened with cattle that 'scarce one can live by another', (fn. 11) and there were stints for sheep in the 16th and 17th centuries. Protests against over-grazing were made in the late 18th century and the 17th-century regulations were revived in 1789. (fn. 12)

The Star Chamber suit concerned an attempted inclosure in Church Field: whatever the outcome in this case, it is clear that much inclosure must have taken place, particularly in the north of the parish, before the parliamentary award of 1816. (fn. 13) Much was no doubt achieved in small quantities and by agreement, though the large amounts of inclosed land held in 1816 by the greater landowners suggests that their predecessors may have inclosed large quantities at various times. It is, however, worth noticing that one of these larger estates (Park farm) originated in an estate which seems to have been inclosed land in the 13th century. (fn. 14) The inclosure of 1816 was afterwards said to have doubled the rents of the land affected by it, and it was probably partly responsible for a sharp drop in the number of farms. By 1843 there were only two, Cuckoo farm (c. 170 a.) and Park farm (c. 80 a.), both occupied by tenants at will and belonging to comparatively large land owners. (fn. 15) Other agricultural developments of the first half of the century were probably attributable to different causes and may have begun in the very early years of the century, before the inclosure. (fn. 16) Very few modern methods and improvements had been introduced by 1843 but a radical change had taken place in cropping. There were less than 200 acres of arable, on which wheat and beans remained, as in 1780, the chief crops, though they covered only 60 and 30 acres respectively in 1842. By far the most important crop in that year was hay, of which 600 tons were produced from as many acres. There were no grazing cattle in the parish, though there were 48 cows and 108 sheep. (fn. 17) Hay for the London market probably continued to be the principal crop as long as any large area of the parish was preserved for agriculture. Market-gardens covered 20 acres in 1837 and two or three nurseries, largely under glass, among the houses constituted the last vestige of agriculture in the early 20th century. (fn. 18) In 1921 as many as 132 men living in the parish were employed in agricultural occupations, most of them in trades connected with gardening, (fn. 19) but many of these probably worked in the still rural areas to the west and north of Hanwell.

Hanwell mustered 14 men in response to a commission of array c. 1335, (fn. 20) and in 1547 there were only 53 'houseling' people in the village: (fn. 21) both these figures, like later ones given below, exclude New Brentford. The population grew a great deal in the next three centuries. Thirty two householders were assessed to hearth tax in 1664 and 41 were returned as exempt. (fn. 22) there were said to be some 40 families c. 1723 (fn. 23) and some 60 houses in 1766. (fn. 24) In 1801 the population was 817, (fn. 25) and it was said in 1805 to have more than doubled in the past 25 years. (fn. 26) By 1831, after a slight drop, it had risen to 1,213. (fn. 27) Part of this growth may have been stimulated by the increase of traffic along the Uxbridge road, (fn. 28) though Hanwell was never a post-town and does not seem to have particularly depended upon passing road traffic. Other factors were involved in the late-18th- and early-19th-century increase. The construction of the Grand Junction Canal brought labourers into the parish in 1794, (fn. 29) though it seems to have had little permanent effect afterwards. (fn. 30) At about the same time and later several larger houses were built which were inhabited by a different class of inhabitants from the majority of those already there, and more building followed the inclosure. (fn. 31) In 1845 Kelly's Directory commented that Hanwell had 'of late become more known and visited through the number of inmates in the lunatic asylum and from the railway station here'. The lunatic asylum (now St. Bernard's Hospital), which was in fact in Norwood outside the parish bounds, was built in 1831, when 20 labourers from Hanwell were employed on the work. (fn. 32) John Conolly (1794-1866), resident physician there from 1839 to 1844, later kept a private asylum at Lawn House in Hanwell. (fn. 33) The house was still used for the same purpose some time after his death and there were one or two other private asylums in Hanwell in the middle years of the century. (fn. 34) The construction of the railway and viaduct in the years before 1838 once again brought a number of labourers, notably Irishmen, into the parish, with consequent disorders and alarms. (fn. 35) The trains to Paddington from Hanwell were too few and ran too late in the day (fn. 36) for the railway to have any immediate effect on the growth of population, and coaches and omnibuses continued to ply for some years from the 'King's Arms' and the 'Duke of York'. (fn. 37) They made several return-journeys each day, providing a sufficiently useful service for those who did not actually work for long hours in London. The first notable rise in population in the mid-19th century resulted from the establishment of the Central London District School at Cuckoo farm, with its thousand or so poor-law pupils. (fn. 38) From the 1870's the building, mostly of small houses for people working elsewhere, began in earnest, and the population grew from 3,766 in 1871 to 6,139 by 1891. Thereafter the pace quickened and the start of the tramways in 1901 helped to create a demand for working-class and lower-middle-class houses: the 36 horse-buses which had plied along the Uxbridge road were all withdrawn within a few months of the trams starting. (fn. 39) Between 1901 and 1911 the population increased from over 10,000 to over 19,000. The final period of growth came in the 1930's, largely as a result of the building of the L.C.C. housing estate at Cuckoo farm, and in 1951 the area of the old parish had 30,392 inhabitants. (fn. 40)

Since the population began to grow Hanwell has been primarily a dormitory area: in 1921 just under 5,800 of the occupied population (nearly 8,800) worked outside the parish, and fewer than 1,000 came in to work from other districts. (fn. 41) Some industries have nevertheless been established. In 1795 John Fownes, who lived near the church and is presumed to have been a member of the glovemaking family, established a manufactory for gloves which was said to afford employment to the women and children of the poor. (fn. 42) No later reference to this has been found and it was probably of short duration. Thomas Hume (d. 1850), formerly physician to the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula, (fn. 43) who married a daughter of the rector, G. H. Glasse, and lived for a while at Brent Lodge, (fn. 44) is said to have lived later in a house by the Boston Road. Here, it is said, he constructed a wharf from which the bricks dug on his land were transported. (fn. 45) Hume's Wharf is still extant, but the material shipped from it is much more likely to have been gravel, which was being dug in the area by 1864. (fn. 46) The only brick-earth in the parish is farther east. (fn. 47) Gravel-working west of Boston Road continued into the 20th century. (fn. 48) Factory Yard off the Uxbridge road was so named by 1894, (fn. 49) and by about the turn of the century there were several industrial firms in the parish, including a 'patent bungalow maker', a dyer, several laundries, and the works of W. E. Hill and Sons, the great violin dealers. (fn. 50) W. E. Hill had moved from Brentford to Heath Lodge about 1880, and the workshop was built in his garden. The family left Hanwell in the 1930's but the works were still there in 1959. (fn. 51) During the first half of the 20th century the number of small factories and workshops increased greatly: many of them lay south of the Uxbridge road, between St. Margaret's Road and Cambridge Road. (fn. 52) Cambridge Yard was first used industrially in 1919 and the letting of workshops started in 1924. There were some sixteen firms there in 1959. (fn. 53) Most of the other industrial firms in Hanwell in 1959 were settled in the neighbourhood round the Uxbridge road and the northern half of Boston Road. There were perhaps 30 in the parish altogether, engaged in a wide variety of light industries, many of them engineering. (fn. 54) One firm employed over 200 persons, and two more over 100 each, but Hanwell is not predominantly an industrial area. Some of the inhabitants are engaged in the distributive trades, and many travel to Greenford, Perivale, the Great West Road, and elsewhere to work. (fn. 55)

Before West Ealing was developed in the early 20th century Hanwell was more or less clearly separated from other urban areas on all sides. (fn. 56) The Cuckoo (Central London District) School and the cemeteries in the east, with the Boston House estate in the south, maintained this isolation for a while and preserved some identity for the town. This was promoted until 1926 by its independent local government, though the council relied on Ealing for some services. (fn. 57) One local paper, the Hanwell Gazette, was published from 1898 to 1923, when it was incorporated in the West Middesex Gazette. (fn. 58) At least one other, the Hanwell Post, was in existence in 1901. (fn. 59) The cottage hospital (now Queen Victoria Hospital) was opened in 1900. (fn. 60) There were two cinemas by 1911, (fn. 61) and the Park Theatre in Greenford Avenue was used in the 1920's for live performances and concerts. (fn. 62) After the old Cuckoo School had been closed in 1933 the remaining part of the building became the Hanwell Community Centre. It was still used for various local activities in 1959. Hanwell contained over 200 shops by 1911, including a few branches of chain stores. (fn. 63) For more elaborate shops and department stores it is still necessary to go to West Ealing. Despite the buses along the Uxbridge road, however, the cemeteries and the residential houses around their gates on the east, like the allotments and open land of the Brent valley, with the mental hospital beyond, on the west, still separate the Broadway (as the shopping area of the Uxbridge road in Hanwell is called) from neighbouring districts and give it some genuinely local character. The force of this as a sign of any remaining coherence of the old village area is diminished by the long, narrow shape of the parish, which precludes any real unity between the more distant residential areas to north and south.


  • 1. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 128b.
  • 2. See p. 224.
  • 3. See p. 212.
  • 4. M.R.O., Acc. 249/1255.
  • 5. See p. 225.
  • 6. H. Tremenheere, 'Agric. and Educ. Statistics of several parishes in Mdx.' Jnl. Stat. Soc. of Lond. vi. 124.
  • 7. This is the total acreage of the par. given in the source (H.O. 67/16): but cf. p. 221.
  • 8. H.O. 67/16.
  • 9. M.R.O., Hanwell Incl. Award; cf. Gream, 'Plan of par. of Hanwell 1803', in St. Mary's ch., Hanwell.
  • 10. Jnl. Stat. Soc. of Lond. vi. 124; cf. e.g. Ealing Libr., Hanwell Vestry Min. Bk. sub 31 Aug. 1798.
  • 11. St. Ch. 8/197/14.
  • 12. e.g. Eccl. 2/210/1; St. Ch. 8/197/14; Ealing Libr., Hanwell Vestry Min. Bk. sub 17 June 1789.
  • 13. See M.R.O., Hanwell Incl. Award map.
  • 14. See p. 225.
  • 15. Jnl. Stat. Soc. of Lond. vi. 124: for the identification of these farms, cf. M.R.O., Hanwell Tithe Award.
  • 16. As in Greenford (above p. 213); the arable may have shrunk between 1801 and 1803: cf. H.O. 67/16 and Jnl. Stat. Soc. of Lond. vi. 124, citing Gream's map in St. Mary's ch.
  • 17. Jnl. Stat. Soc. of Lond. vi. 124.
  • 18. M.R.O., Hanwell Tithe Award; O.S. Maps 1/2,500 Mdx. xv. 11, 15 (2nd and later edns.).
  • 19. Census, 1921.
  • 20. M.R.O., F. 37.
  • 21. E 301/34, no. 158.
  • 22. M.R.O., H.T. 6, m. 10.
  • 23. Guildhall MS. 9550. An estimate of 20 families in 1654 is likely, on all accounts, to be too small: Cal. S. P. Dom. 1654, 342.
  • 24. Guildhall MS. 9558.
  • 25. Census, 1801.
  • 26. Gent. Mag. (1805), lxxv. 822.
  • 27. Census, 1811-31.
  • 28. For building at this period and the inns on the road, see p. 223.
  • 29. Ealing Libr., Hanwell Vestry Min. Bk. sub 7 Sept. 1794.
  • 30. See, e.g. M.R.O., Hanwell Incl. and Tithe Award maps.
  • 31. See p. 223.
  • 32. Lewis, Topog. Dict. Eng. (1831), ii. 313; Census, 1831.
  • 33. D.N.B. iv. 953.
  • 34. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845, 1851, 1862).
  • 35. Ealing Libr., undated press-cuttings. For the railway, see p. 223.
  • 36. See Sharpe, Bygone Hanwell, 97.
  • 37. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845, 1851, 1862, 1882).
  • 38. Census, 1841-71. For the school, see p. 236.
  • 39. Rep. Com. on Lond. Traffic: Mins. of Evidence [Cd. 2751], q. 24967, H.C. (1906), xcvi.
  • 40. Census, 1871-1951. For building, see also p. 223. The figure for 1951 is that of the eccl. pars. of St. Mary, St. Mark, St. Mellitus, and St. Thomas.
  • 41. Census, 1921.
  • 42. Sharpe, Bygone Hanwell, 94: the source of this is not stated but the wording suggests a contemporary newspaper. For Fownes, see Gream, 'Plan of par. of Hanwell 1803', in St. Mary's ch., and vestry min. bks. in Ealing Libr.
  • 43. Roll of R. Coll. of Physicians, ed. Munk (2nd edn.), iii. 63-64.
  • 44. M.R.O., Acc. 140/copy surrender, 1821.
  • 45. C. S. Burton, Hanwell in Olden Time, 15-16.
  • 46. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. xv. 15 (1st edn.).
  • 47. Geol. Survey Map, sheets 256, 270 (drift).
  • 48. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. xv. 15 (2nd and later edns.).
  • 49. Ibid. xv. 11 (2nd edn.).
  • 50. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1902).
  • 51. Ex inf. the manager.
  • 52. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1922, 1937).
  • 53. Ex inf. the manager, Cambridge Yard.
  • 54. Ex inf. Ealing Employment Exchange; cf. Kemp's Dir. Ealing and Hanwell (1955), 9.
  • 55. Ex inf. Ealing Employment Exchange.
  • 56. See p. 223.
  • 57. See p. 239.
  • 58. Files at B.M. Newspaper Library, Colindale.
  • 59. Cutting in Char. Com. files.
  • 60. Hanwell Cottage Hosp. First Rep. 1897-1900 (copy in Ealing Libr.).
  • 61. O.S. Map. 1/2,500 Mdx. xv. 11 (3rd edn.).
  • 62. Hanwell U.D. Official Guide [c. 1922]: copy in Ealing Libr.
  • 63. Census, 1911; Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1902, 1922).