Sunbury: 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.

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, 'Sunbury: 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. 58-59. British History Online [accessed 23 May 2024].

. "Sunbury: 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) 58-59. British History Online, accessed May 23, 2024,

. "Sunbury: 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, (London, 1962). 58-59. British History Online. Web. 23 May 2024,


Domeday Book lists 48 persons in the three manors: 21 at Sunbury, 19 at Kempton, and 8 at Charlton. The most numerous class consisted of those described as villeins, of whom there were 10 at Sunbury, 14 at Kempton, and one at Charlton. There were also 5 bordars, 5 cottars, and a slave at Sunbury, 3 bordars and 2 slaves at Kempton, and 1 bordar and 6 slaves at Charlton. (fn. 1) About 1335 Sunbury and Charlton together mustered 24 men for a commission of array and Kempton and Hanworth mustered 22. (fn. 2) In 1547 there were 174 'houseling' people in the parish, (fn. 3) and this figure included Upper Halliford, which as part of Halliford manor, is excluded from the earlier, manorial figures. (fn. 4) In 1664 80 householders in the parish were listed as either owing hearth-tax or exempt from it. (fn. 5) During the 18th century the population was diversified by the richer people who lived in the new and larger houses by the river and elsewhere. Notable among this group was a colony of Huguenot refugees. The first of these to be mentioned is Isaac St. Eloy, (fn. 6) who owned Sunbury manor by 1703, and it has been suggested that the colony first gathered between 1703 and 1708 around the Dowager Duchess de la Force. (fn. 7) In 1709 24 names of persons assessed to poor relief were French. (fn. 8) It is possible that French Street and the former French Place (fn. 9) were named from the Huguenot settlers. French names occur in the parish registers until 1748 (fn. 10) and it is possible that others found as late as 1820 may be attributed to the Huguenot settlement. (fn. 11) By 1801 the population was 1,447, and the richer people were sufficiently numerous in the 19th century for assembly rooms to be opened in Thames Street. (fn. 12) Sunbury was a popular angling resort during the 19th century. (fn. 13) The population rose to over 2,300 in 1861, and, after the opening of the railway in 1864, to over 4,000 in 1881. Between 1931 and 1951 it increased from about 6,500 to 16,416, though this last figure includes the areas at Ashford Common and Feltham Hill which had been added to the old parish since 1931. (fn. 14)

In 1086 there were altogether 15 ploughlands in the parish outside Halliford manor. Of these 6 were at Sunbury, 5 at Kempton, and 4 at Charlton. All the land was more or less under-worked according to the survey: each demesne had only 1 plough, and the villagers had 4 at Sunbury, 3 at Kempton, and only half a team at Charlton. (fn. 15) In 1318 all the harvest works owed by the tenants of Sunbury were commuted for money, (fn. 16) and the demesne was farmed out by 1395. (fn. 17) The only real information about the medieval economy of the parish, however, concerns Halliford and Kempton manors. Halliford is discussed elsewhere. (fn. 18) At Kempton there is no mention of week works in the manorial accounts of the early 14th century, but the tenants owed boon-works at harvest. (fn. 19) Apart from a ploughman and ploughboy there is no evidence of regular paid labour on the demesne. In the early years of the century rye and oats were the chief crops, with a fair amount of barley. Later barley became the most important cash crop, with wheat and maslin replacing rye as the second crop. There seems to have been no systematic rotation: the units of arable were furlongs rather than fields and more than one crop was sometimes sown in one furlong. There was no livestock on the demesne except for the plough animals, though there was a shepherd who in 1329-30 looked after 140 sheep, presumably belonging to tenants, which were manuring the lord's land. The king kept horses and deer in the park, but these were regarded as separate from the manor stock. (fn. 20) From 1363 the demesne was leased, and the detailed information about its management ceases, though in the time of Richard II Kempton manor is known to have had the right to pasture 300 sheep on Sunbury Common. (fn. 21)

In the 17th and 18th centuries the open arable was still organized in furlongs rather than in fields. Although West and Court Fields in Kempton manor are mentioned in 1604, only three fields in the parish are frequently mentioned, and the names of these seem to be used to describe geographical areas rather than units of cultivation or rotation. (fn. 22) Each of the three lay across manor boundaries. (fn. 23) When they were finally inclosed in 1803 they still covered some 570 acres, and there were then a small amount of open meadow and over 560 acres of common, nearly all on Sunbury Common. (fn. 24) All the four manors (i.e. including Halliford) had common pasture rights on Sunbury Common and each of the lords also seems to have had a sheepwalk there. Pasture-rights on the common and fields were stinted by the 18th century. (fn. 25) Inclosures were made from the open fields and the common at various times. About 36 acres had been newly inclosed at Charlton in 1620. In 1632 the lord of Kempton inclosed part of the common by agreement with his tenants and gave up his common rights on the remainder. (fn. 26) At the inclosure of 1803 there were already about 1,000 acres of closes. Great difficulty was experienced in getting the necessary consent to the inclosure Act from the landowners. (fn. 27)

In 1801 the chief crops were wheat and barley. (fn. 28) Clover was being grown in the early 19th century. (fn. 29) Nurserymen and market-gardeners were in the parish by 1826, (fn. 30) and by 1865 there were a fair number of orchards east of Green Street in addition to the nursery farther west which gave its name to Nursery Road. The orchards increased until the 20th century, when most of them were dug up, though market-gardens and nurseries continued to grow. (fn. 31) In 1947 there were 368 acres of horticultural land in the parish, 11 acres of which were under glass. This area was divided among 24 holdings. (fn. 32) Horticulture remained predominant on the land available in 1957, though mixed farming was still carried on in the west of the parish, especially around Charlton, and there were still meadows along the Thames in the south-west.

Very few people were employed in industry before the late 19th century. The proximity of the river may account for the rope-making of the early 19th century. There was a small brewery just north of the church in the 1860's and 1870's. (fn. 33) In 1826 there was a screw manufacturer who is supposed to have made wooden screws. (fn. 34) Brick-earth was being dug in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in the 20th gravel-extraction on a large scale took place at Sunbury Common (now built over), Charlton, and Halliford. (fn. 35) It was still going on by Charlton Lane in 1959. Modern industry began near the station where a factory was making wall-paper by 1878. The P.I.M. Board Co. was formed in 1898 with a factory nearby, and in 1903 250 persons were employed in these two works, (fn. 36) which have since expanded greatly. British Thermostats Ltd. started work in Windmill Road in 1930 and employed 1,350 people in 1958. (fn. 37) Since the Second World War a number of factories and workshops have opened in Windmill Road, some of them on two small trading estates. Most of these works are engaged in various kinds of engineering. In 1957 there were several factories elsewhere in the parish, most of them small: very few anywhere in Sunbury employed over 100 persons. Between 1957 and 1959 several new factories were opened to the north of Charlton in Ashford Road. Some of the people working in Sunbury come from surrounding areas, while many inhabitants of the parish are employed in surrounding areas such as Feltham and Hampton. (fn. 38) Comparatively few probably work in London: in 1921 only 321 persons went there to work out of 825 who worked outside the parish. (fn. 39)


  • 1. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 128b, 129a, 130b.
  • 2. M.R.O., F. 37.
  • 3. E 301/34/141.
  • 4. For Halliford manor, see p. 6.
  • 5. M.R.O., H.T. 6, m. 16.
  • 6. See p. 54.
  • 7. C. E. Lart, 'French colony and ch. at Sunbury,' Proc. Huguenot Soc. of Lond. xiii. 474-82.
  • 8. Par. Rec., Vestry Min. Bk.; cf. ibid. Acct. of brief, 1709.
  • 9. Named in O.S. Map 6" Mdx. xx (1st edn.).
  • 10. Par. Rec., Vestry Min. Bks. and Regs.
  • 11. Ibid., Vestry Min. Bk. 1792-1823, 232.
  • 12. Inscription over door of building (now occupied as a factory).
  • 13. Thorne, Handbk. to Environs of Lond. (1876), ii. 591.
  • 14. Census, 1801-1951; for the railway and the growth of building, see p. 53.
  • 15. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 128b, 129a, 130b.
  • 16. D. & C. St. Paul's, MS. B 76/15.
  • 17. S.C. 6/1140/18, 19, 25.
  • 18. See pp. 7-8.
  • 19. The following passage is based on E 101/537/21; S.C. 6/747/14; /752/6, 11; /753/3-4, 6, 10-13, 23.
  • 20. See p. 56.
  • 21. S.C. 6/754/1, 12, &c.
  • 22. M.R.O., Acc. 7/7; Acc. 173/Copy Ct. Roll 1775; Acc. 175/1; Acc. 286/deed, 1734; Acc. 333/23, no. 31; Acc. 526/51; Acc. 598/Customs.
  • 23. For the layout of the fields, see p. 51.
  • 24. M.R.O., Sunbury Incl. Award.
  • 25. L.R.R.O., 60/1653; E 124/2; C 93/45/3; B.M. Eg. MS. 2357, ff. 15, 47; M.R.O., Acc. 248/1b, and ct. roll, 1722; Acc. 598/Customs.
  • 26. M.R.O., Acc. 248/1b; Acc. 526/51; Acc. 598/Customs, Survey, and Ct. Bks. C 93/45/3.
  • 27. Rep. Cttee. to Facilitate Incl. 1800, H.C. ser. 1. ix, p. 235.
  • 28. H.O. 67/16.
  • 29. Par. Rec., lease, 1803.
  • 30. Pigot, Lond. and Prov. Dir. (1826-7).
  • 31. O.S. Maps 6" xxiv, xxv (1st and later edns.).
  • 32. L. G. Bennett, Hortic. Industry of Mdx. (Reading Univ. Dept. of Agric. Econ. misc. studies, no. 7), 38.
  • 33. M.R.O., Sunbury Incl. Award; O.S. Map 6" Mdx. xxv (1st edn.). Note the footpath called the Ropewalk.
  • 34. Pigot, Lond. and Prov. Dir. (1826-7); N. & Q. lxxix. 244.
  • 35. O.S. Maps 6" Mdx. xxiv, xxv (1st and later edns.); Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1886 and later edns.); M.R.O., Acc. 150/sales particulars, 1864; Par. Rec., lease, 1882, and terrier, 1889.
  • 36. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1878); Sunbury U.D.C. Health Rep. 1903; cf. V.C.H. Mdx. ii. 197.
  • 37. Ex inf. the firm.
  • 38. Ex inf. various firms and personal observation; see Sunbury U.D.C. Guide (1951).
  • 39. Census, 1921.