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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It seems likely that the great tract of heath in south-west Middlesex extended originally over most of the area covered with Taplow gravel. The gravel reaches roughly from Smallbury Green and Fulwell in the east to Longford and Stanwellmoor near the Colne. On the north its edge approximately follows the line of the London-Colnbrook road, with a northward spur past Cranford and another, skirting most of Heston, up beyond Osterley. In the south, it takes in the villages of Stanwell and the Bedfonts, just includes Feltham and Hanworth, and reaches to the edge of Hampton village. (fn. 1) The correspondence between soil and heathland was probably never exact, for the commons at Staines, for instance, lay partly outside this area though near to it. (fn. 2) By 1086, too, several villages and hamlets-Stanwell, East and West Bedfont, Cranford, Hatton, Feltham, Hanworth, and probably Hounslow-were established on the Taplow. (fn. 3) Piecemeal inclosure made further inroads during the next two centuries: the hamlets of Stanwellmoor and Heath Row probably appeared during this time, assarts of 100 acres near Fulwell are referred to about 1200, and inclosures were made in Heston by the Crane and nearby in the Beavers. (fn. 4) Hanworth Park (200 a.) was said in 1517 to have been inclosed since 1495 from former arable land, but its situation suggests that at least some of it may have been heathland. In the same way the inclosures made at Hampton in the early 16th century, though these were just outside the Taplow area described above, probably lay on the edge of the heath. (fn. 5) In 1545 Hounslow Heath was estimated to cover 4,293 acres 1 rood and to extend into the 'fields, parishes, and hamlets' of Isleworth, Brentford End, Heston, Hounslow, Twickenham, Teddington, Hampton, Hanworth, Feltham, Bedfont, Cranford, Harlington, Harmondsworth, and Stanwell. (fn. 6) In each of these places the principal estate was in the possession of the Crown: advantage had already been taken of this to make a new river, through the royal manors and over the heath, from the Colne to Isleworth mill, (fn. 7) and in 1545 an Act was passed to inclose the whole heath, dividing it between the various parishes. Each parish allotment was to be separated into three, two parts being for arable, laid out in 20-acre furlongs with strips for each tenant, and the third being kept as common pasture. The proportions of arable and pasture could be varied according to circumstances. (fn. 8) The heath had already been surveyed when the Act was passed and some preliminary steps seem to have been taken towards making the allotments, (fn. 9) for at about the time of the Act there was trouble at Isleworth when people set up gates, presumably in furtherance of the inclosure though against the commissioners' orders. (fn. 10) Whether allotments were ever formally made or not, no records of inclosures have been found except at East Bedfont and Hampton, and possibly at Whitton. Elsewhere the only lasting result of the Act may have been to set out parish boundaries across the heath. It is not impossible that some boundaries were already de fined: the common of Isleworth was described in 1299 as reaching from Cranford to Twickenham and from Babworth Pond (near Baber Bridge) to Hounslow. (fn. 11) There is no clear evidence, however, before 1607 that this area was apportioned between Heston and Isleworth. (fn. 12) Elsewhere, it is possible that the heath was originally common to all adjoining villages: the boundary between Stanwell and Harmondsworth, for instance, ran along the Duke of Northumberland's River, which was not made until the reign of Henry VIII, though parts of it may have followed older water-courses. (fn. 13) By 1754 all the boundaries across the heath were fixed. (fn. 14)
Neither at Bedfont nor Hampton was the inclosure under Henry VIII's Act complete, for both retained common heath until the 19th century. In 1568 an Exchequer commission was issued to ratify the titles of the inhabitants of Hampton to 96 acres which had been manured out of 317 allotted to the parish. (fn. 15) This land seems to have lain north of Smythes Lane, in Hampton, with the old open fields on the south of the lane and the heath on the north. (fn. 16) In 1601 Sir Michael Stanhope sought a similar commission to ratify inclosures at Bedfont. He alleged that East Bedfont contained 800 acres of the heath, of which 221 acres had been allotted to the tenants for tillage. He supported this by documents from the Court of Augmentations, including a terrier of the allotments, which lay in three fields: Hatton Field, Broomhill Field, and Pond Furlong Field. On the other side it was said that Henry VIII had desisted from the original inclosure because of the protests which had been made, and that no inclosure had been made before Stanhope himself tried to inclose the heath. (fn. 17) Whether the Bedfont inclosure was made under the Act or by Stanhope, the 18th-century open field north and east of Hatton (c. 300 a. in 1817) (fn. 18) seems very likely to be related to it. (fn. 19) The inclosures which seem to have been made at Whitton under the Act are referred to in particulars of a proposed Crown lease which were drawn up in 1562. The land to be leased lay on the common to the south of the hamlet, and the Crown surveyors professed to be ignorant of the Crown's title to it, so that, even if they were carrying out Henry VIII's Act, they seem to have been unconscious of the fact. (fn. 20) The land covered some 98 acres: whether its inclosure was afterwards maintained seems from later maps to be doubtful. (fn. 21)
The 17th century saw more inclosures, mostly small ones, around the heath, including the enlargment of Bushy Park. (fn. 22) The park of Whitton Place was extended over the heath in 1726. (fn. 23) In 1754 Rocque shows Hounslow Heath on the eve of its final inclosure. In spite of encroachments, of which the more important are mentioned above or in the histories of the various parishes, Hounslow Heath still stretched in a wide belt from Hampton in the south-east to Heath Row in the north-west. (fn. 24) Stanwell was the first parish to respond to the pleas of the 18th-century agriculturalists who lamented the evil example of this waste so near to the capital. (fn. 25) The Stanwell inclosure award was dated 1792 and the heath land there was under cultivation within a few years. (fn. 26) Teddington followed in 1800, Feltham and Hanworth in 1803, Bedfont in 1817, Heston, Isleworth, and Twickenham in 1818, Harmondsworth in 1819, Cranford in 1820, Harlington in 1821, and Hampton in 1827. (fn. 27)
The principal use of Hounslow Heath was naturally for pasture. It was also used for hunting and may have contained or have been co-extensive with the warren of Staines which existed until 1227. (fn. 28) At least after that date the heath was regarded as free of all restrictions, and complaints were made after his death that Richard of Cornwall had made a warren on the heath near Hounslow. (fn. 29) Queen Elizabeth may have hawked on Hounslow Heath, (fn. 30) and James I seems to have done so often. He and his successors preserved game there as well as in the parks of Hampton Court, and in 1629 hunting, hawking, coursing, and fishing near Hounslow Heath without royal licence was expressly forbidden. (fn. 31) William III used Hounslow manor-house as a hunting lodge. (fn. 32) The increasing use of the heath for military camps no doubt diminished its amenities for hunting after the 17th century. Both Charles I and Charles II held reviews on the heath, parliamentary forces mustered on it during the Civil War, and James II established there the camp with which he intended to overawe London (see plate facing p. 91). (fn. 33) The commissary-general of provisions was then granted the right to hold a fair and market at Hounslow, (fn. 34) and in addition to stables, kitchens, and so forth (fn. 35) the buildings of the camp included a hospital, (fn. 36) and a Roman Catholic chapel, which was later removed to Conduit Street in London where it became a chapel of ease to St. Martin in the Fields. (fn. 37) The site of the camp was leased from Lord Belasyse (d. 1689), (fn. 38) who is said to have owned a house at Whitton. (fn. 39) Hospital Bridge, across the Crane south of Whitton, was so called by 1754 and probably owes its name to the camp hospital. (fn. 40) Prints of 1686 show the camp lying east of the Crane and most of it south of the Staines Road, (fn. 41) but another of 1740 suggests that at least part of the camp lay west of the Crane. (fn. 42) This is possibly borne out by the fact that payments for damage caused by the encampment were made to Sir Thomas Chambers, a landowner at Feltham and Hanworth. They were also claimed by Lord Berkeley, who owned Cranford. (fn. 43) Most of the camp was dismantled after William III's accession, but reviews and musters continued to be held on the heath at intervals throughout the 18th century, and in 1784 General William Roy set out the base-line of the Ordnance Survey on the heath in Feltham. (fn. 44) In 1793 cavalry barracks were built on the heath in Heston north of the Staines Road. (fn. 45) Accommodation for infantry was first provided in the seventies, (fn. 46) and, much enlarged, these barracks were in 1957 the headquarters of Eastern Command. The original buildings were for 400 men, and 1,298 persons were enumerated in the barracks in 1931. (fn. 47) When the Isleworth and Heston part of the heath was inclosed in 1818 268 acres south of the Staines Road were purchased by the government to be an exercise ground for the barracks. (fn. 48) The army has since erected buildings over part of it. The remaining 150 acres, still generally called Hounslow Heath, belongs to the War Office, but has not been used by the army for many years. (fn. 49) Its later use is discussed elsewhere. (fn. 50)
Duels and prize-fights were held on the heath in the 17th and 18th centuries, and there was a racecourse to the south of the Staines Road in Isleworth in the 18th, (fn. 51) but perhaps the most common popular association with the heath is as a resort of highwaymen. There are fairly frequent references to robberies on the heath from the 16th century, (fn. 52) but many of the stories commonly told of the Hounslow highwaymen have little foundation. There is, for instance, no evidence that Dick Turpin operated there. (fn. 53) The bodies of criminals hung on gibbets by the road as late as 1801. (fn. 54) The gibbets are said to have been taken down about 1809. (fn. 55)