Hanwell: Local government

Pages 228-230

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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In the Middle Ages and for some time afterwards Hanwell was a hamlet of Greenford manor and was administered through its courts. (fn. 1) During the 18th century, when the court was becoming little more than a formal meeting for the registration of copyhold conveyances, the two villages began to be treated as separate manors, and in the 19th century the Hanwell court was moved from Greenford to Hanwell. It was held at first at the 'King's Arms' and latterly at the Viaduct Inn, and survived, with a vestigial court leet, until about 1900, though the Greenford court declined more rapidly. (fn. 2) In the later 19th century a tenants' dinner, which a steward afterwards called 'rather a depressing function', was held at the Viaduct Inn and an 'old tradition' was observed whereby the steward and tenants played 'bat, trap, and ball' in a field near the Brent. (fn. 3)

Long before the demise of the manor court most of the functions of local administration had been taken over by the vestry. (fn. 4) In 1788 the vestry chose the headboroughs, who, with the constable, were officially appointed at the court, and at about the same time the vestry was reporting trespasses on the waste to the steward and generally concerning itself with rights over the open fields and common. The vestry minutes are preserved from 1780, and show a small body, under the chairmanship of the rector and including several of the local gentry, which seldom met more than once a month. Naturally preoccupied a good deal with poor relief, the cost of which rose from £128 in 1776 to nearly £550 in 1813-14, when 32 persons received relief regularly and 75 occasionally, (fn. 5) its management of the matter was nevertheless rather desultory. The help received from Hobbayne's charity, (fn. 6) which amounted to over £40 in 1822, no doubt reduced the sense of urgency with which the vestry regarded the problem of poor-relief. There was no workhouse, and attempts to secure facilities at those of other parishes seem to have been unsuccessful, (fn. 7) while a plan to send pauper children as 'apprentices' to a mill at Cuckney (Notts.) seems to have been rarely applied. (fn. 8) Instead the vestry relied on pensions of the usual kind and on sporadic measures like the formation of a charitable fund in 1795 to subsidize the price of bread. The parish pump erected in 1815 was also designed to benefit the poor. Instead of a workhouse the vestry maintained poor-houses which were occupied rent-free or at low rents. References to the poor's or parish house or houses in the 17th and early 18th centuries (fn. 9) may have generally related, as they sometimes did, (fn. 10) to houses belonging to Hobbayne's charity, which were leased for the charity's profit, but in 1615 at least the charity made a grant to the parish for repairing a 'church house' which seems to have been a poor-house. (fn. 11) By 1740 this house was probably no longer in existence, for the parish then took a house for a year to serve the same purpose. (fn. 12) Five houses rebuilt in 1790 by the charity on its land in the Halfacre (now Halfacre Road) were thereupon used to house the poor and three more were added to them by the parish in 1793. They were under the management of the parish officers, and the vestry paid rent for them to the charity. (fn. 13) Later the rent seems to have been discontinued, and after the parish ceased to be responsible for its own poor in 1836 the charity continued to let some of the houses, rent-free, to poor persons. (fn. 14)

The Hobbayne's trustees generally comprised the more influential members of the vestry, and possibly almost constituted a committee for parish affairs. (fn. 15) According to the Chancery decree of 1612 under which they worked, however, they made their gifts to the poor in consultation with the parish officers. It seems likely that as the duties of the vestry became more onerous and the funds of the charity less equal to the needs of the poor, so the influence of the trustees, as such, declined. The relations of vestry and charity in the late 18th and early 19th century, however, remain slightly obscure and could be unfriendly. (fn. 16)

No minutes survive to show how the vestry reacted to the removal of its poor-law responsibilities in 1836, but it never seems to have been an enterprising body and probably sank into inactivity. It was not until some time later that rapid growth in population made sanitary and other reforms imperative and that changes in administration were made. A strongly adverse report (fn. 17) on the sanitary condition of the parish in 1876 noted the entire absence of control on building standards and recorded that the only steps ever taken to deal with the lack of sewerage and the pollution of the wells and the river had been the making of a few ineffectual changes in the various open drains about fifteen years before. Brentford rural sanitary authority had appointed a parish committee on sewerage, but the committee's term of office had expired before the scheme it prepared was accepted, and it had not been reappointed. The report gives examples of the different fevers that were prevalent as a result. The rural sanitary authority, after some reverses, (fn. 18) began sewerage operations and opened a sewage farm on the present site of the sewage works by the Brent about 1884-5. (fn. 19) About the same time, although hampered by its association in the very small rural sanitary authority with entirely rural parishes (Greenford, Perivale, and Twyford), and no doubt by its own small area, Hanwell seems to have begun to awaken to the need for new expedients. (fn. 20) A lighting committee was formed in 1876, (fn. 21) a burial board in 1881, and a highway board in 1885. (fn. 22) The proposal of Norwood to construct sewage works with an outfall into the Brent close to the built-up area of Hanwell seems to have provided the final impetus needed for the forming of a local board of health. (fn. 23) This took place in 1885, apparently with the virtually unanimous approval of the parish, though in face of some opposition from Greenford, whose inhabitants feared that the absence of Hanwell from the rural sanitary authority would throw an unfair burden on the remaining parishes. (fn. 24)

The board comprised nine members, whose attendance, poor in the early years, was said in 1894 to have been lately improved. The number was then increased to twelve. (fn. 25) It met in hired rooms until the winter of 1891-2, when it moved into Cherington House, which it had purchased a few months before. (fn. 26) The completion and enlargement of the drainage system and sewage works, and the making of by-laws about building were the primary tasks of the board. (fn. 27) Despite some efforts neither it nor the council which succeeded it provided an isolation hospital, but they managed to secure facilities at those of other authorities nearby. In the same way, when the arrangements originally made by the burial board for the use of the St. George's, Hanover Square (now City of Westminster), cemetery were no longer practicable, the council made arrangements for the use of a private burial ground in Greenford. Town planning was discussed in 1911 but no scheme was adopted. The council was not, however, inactive: it opened its first recreation ground (Churchfields) in 1898, (fn. 28) and had 34 acres of parks by 1926, as well as 749 allotments. (fn. 29) The Carnegie public library next to the municipal offices was opened in 1905. In 1917 the council took over an existing day nursery at no. 44, Uxbridge road, to be a crèche for the children of munition-workers, and continued to maintain it until after the war. (fn. 30) The council built 122 houses and flats in Townholme Crescent under the Housing Act of 1919, and it later started another estate of 30 houses in Montague Road and Cambridge Road, which was completed by the borough of Ealing after 1926. (fn. 31) The inhabitants of Hanwell favoured the amalgamation with Ealing which took place in 1926. Relations between the two councils were friendly, and Hanwell people already used the baths as well as the isolation hospital of the larger authority, since Hanwell was too small to be able to afford similar facilities. (fn. 32) By that date the council's two original committees had grown to nine and the staff had increased from seven to about twenty: the treasurer remained part-time throughout, (fn. 33) and the medical officer of health was in later years shared with Ealing. (fn. 34) For some time before 1926 the council had a strong Labour minority, chiefly from the West Central and South wards. Most of the members in the last years, however, belonged to the Ratepayers' Protection Association. (fn. 35)

A school board of seven members was formed in in 1899 and the clerk to the council acted as its clerk, but its functions were transferred under the Act of 1902 to the county council, not to the urban district council. (fn. 36)


  • 1. For the history of these, see p. 215.
  • 2. Ch. Com. rec. 171663, pp. 85, 99; 171740, pp. 227, 230; 318372, p. 4. The removal to Hanwell was not, however, the result of the railway: ibid. 171727, pp. 204, 225 (for 1837).
  • 3. Sharpe, Bygone Hanwell, 54; cf. C. S. Burton, Hanwell in Olden Times, 12.
  • 4. The following passage is derived, except where otherwise stated, from the surviving vestry minutes. One vol. (1860-78) is at the church, 2 vols. (1780-97, 1878-90) are penes Ealing B.C., while others (partly overlapping) are at Ealing Libr. Of these 1785-1811 are virtually unfit for use but have a TS. transcript, 1797-1827 are unfit for use, and 1823-8 are usable.
  • 5. Rep. Cttee. on Rets. by Overseers, 1776, ser. 1, ix. 396; Rets. on expense and maintenance of poor, H.C. 82, p. 262 (1818), xix (demi-folio).
  • 6. For the foundation and hist. of the charity, see p. 236.
  • 7. e.g. Vestry mins. 23 May, 22 Aug. 1786, 1 June 1797, 11 Oct. 1805.
  • 8. Ibid. 21 Mar., 11 June 1792, 1 Apr. 1793; Ealing Libr., framed notice 'To the inhabitants of Hanwell' (1792).
  • 9. e.g. M.R.O., CH/H. 1 sub 1615, 1688, 1700, 1723; /H. 2 sub 1739, 1745.
  • 10. e.g. M.R.O., CH/H. 1 sub 1684; S.C. 2/190/23, f. 28.
  • 11. M.R.O., CH/H. 1 sub 1615.
  • 12. Ealing Libr., MS. memorandum of agreement.
  • 13. See Vestry mins. 17 Apr. 1807.
  • 14. M.R.O., CH/H. 3 sub 1814; 6th Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 12, p. 346 (1822), ix; M.R.O., CH/H. 31/71 (copy Char. Com. rep. on Hanwell chars. 1871).
  • 15. M.R.O., CH/H. 1 passim.
  • 16. Ibid. 3, sub 1804.
  • 17. Orig. penes Ealing B.C.; TS. copy in Ealing Libr.
  • 18. Mdx. Cty. Times, 7 Sept. 1878, 30 May 1885, p. 2.
  • 19. Land purchased 1883 (deed penes Ealing B.C.); Mdx. Cty. Times, 20 June. 1885.
  • 20. e.g. Mdx. Cty. Times, 30 May 1885, pp. 2-3, 5.
  • 21. C. M. Neaves, Hist. of Greater Ealing, 135.
  • 22. Ealing Libr., Hanwell Vestry Min. Bk. 1878-90, pp. 119-22, 296.
  • 23. Mdx. Cty. Times, 18 Apr. 1885, p. 6, 10 Apr. 1886; Ealing B.C., Hanwell Vestry Min. Bk. 1878-90, pp. 309-11.
  • 24. Mdx. Cty. Times, 18 Apr. 1885, p. 3, 30 May 1885, pp. 2-3. 5.
  • 25. M.R.O., Reps. of local enquiries, 261-9.
  • 26. Ealing B.C., Hanwell L.B. Min. Bk. 1885-8, pp. 23, 275; Hanwell U.D.C. files.
  • 27. Mdx. Cty. Times, 30 May 1885, pp. 2-3, 5; 20 June 1885, 24 Apr. 1886.
  • 28. Ealing B.C., Hanwell U.D.C. files.
  • 29. TS. Rep. Local Enquiry on extension of Ealing, 1926 (penes Mr. J. L. Petingale, Hon. Sec., Gter. Ealing Local Hist. Soc.).
  • 30. Ealing B.C., Hanwell U.D.C. files.
  • 31. Ex inf. Ealing B.C.
  • 32. TS. Rep. Local Enquiry, 1926.
  • 33. Ealing B.C., Hanwell U.D.C. files.
  • 34. TS. Rep. Local Inquiry, 1926.
  • 35. Mdx. Cty. Times, 17 July 1926, p. 1.
  • 36. See p. 236.