Northolt: Economic and social history

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 4, Harmondsworth, Hayes, Norwood With Southall, Hillingdon With Uxbridge, Ickenham, Northolt, Perivale, Ruislip, Edgware, Harrow With Pinner. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.

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Diane K Bolton. H P F King. Gillian Wyld. D C Yaxley, 'Northolt: Economic and social history', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 4, Harmondsworth, Hayes, Norwood With Southall, Hillingdon With Uxbridge, Ickenham, Northolt, Perivale, Ruislip, Edgware, Harrow With Pinner, (London, 1971), pp. 116-117. British History Online [accessed 13 June 2024].

Diane K Bolton. H P F King. Gillian Wyld. D C Yaxley. "Northolt: Economic and social history", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 4, Harmondsworth, Hayes, Norwood With Southall, Hillingdon With Uxbridge, Ickenham, Northolt, Perivale, Ruislip, Edgware, Harrow With Pinner, (London, 1971) 116-117. British History Online, accessed June 13, 2024,

Bolton, Diane K. King, H P F. Wyld, Gillian. Yaxley, D C. "Northolt: Economic and social history", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 4, Harmondsworth, Hayes, Norwood With Southall, Hillingdon With Uxbridge, Ickenham, Northolt, Perivale, Ruislip, Edgware, Harrow With Pinner, (London, 1971). 116-117. British History Online. Web. 13 June 2024,


Until the 19th century Northolt was almost exclusively an agricultural community. There seems to have been no other industry in the parish until after the opening of the Paddington Canal in 1801, and there was no corn-mill.

The manorial demesne in 1086 was assessed at 8 hides on which there were two ploughs. The villeins shared a further six ploughs, with room for two more. There was pasture for the cattle of the vill, and the woodland was sufficient to support 200 pigs. (fn. 1) After the Domesday Survey there is no information about the inhabitants or their land until the early 14th century. In 1336 the manorial demesne of Down consisted of 300 a. of arable, 5 a. of meadow, and 20 a. of woodland worth 10s. a year. (fn. 2) In 1388 the demesnes of Northolt and Down together comprised 595 a., including 320 a. of arable, of which 160 a. were sown with corn, and 240 a. of pasture. At this time the agrarian practice on the two manors was almost identical. The chief crops were wheat, oats, and beans, with the addition of peas at Northolt. Both manors supported substantial numbers of sheep-362 at Northolt, 393 at Down-as well as domestic and draught animals. The inventory of each manor included two ploughs. Northolt was valued at £57 and Down at £62. (fn. 3)

After the manors passed to Westminster Abbey in 1399, nothing is known of their economy until 1492 when the demesnes of Northolt and Down were leased separately at an annual farm of £15 8s. and £13 6s. 8d. respectively. (fn. 4) Oats from Northolt were delivered to Westminster in the early 16th century, (fn. 5) and in 1534 the abbey paid for the erection of new farm buildings on the manor. (fn. 6) A year later the two manors were together valued at £34. (fn. 7)

Regulations governing the use of the open fields and the conditions of copyhold tenure were repeated in the manor courts of Northolt and Down at intervals during the 16th and 17th centuries. Copyholders were entitled to fell timber on their land, and to lease their land for three years without leave. They were liable for the maintenance of gates, and to observe the regulations governing the pasturing of cattle, geese, and sheep on the common fields, the ringing of hogs, and the gathering of acorns. (fn. 8)

The pattern of arable farming probably remained substantially unchanged throughout the 17th century, although small areas of the waste and village greens were inclosed from the early 16th century onwards. (fn. 9) By 1700 there is evidence that the demands of the London market were resulting in changes in the agrarian economy. Inclosure for intensive hay farming seems to have replaced the old pattern of openfield cultivation in some areas during the early 18th century. (fn. 10) In 1801, however, there were still 257 a. of wheat, 206 a. of beans, and 128 a. of peas in the parish. (fn. 11) Changes in the pattern of land utilization continued slowly after the inclosure under the 1835 award of about 700 a. of the parish, including almost 600 a. in the open fields. (fn. 12) Much of the inclosed land was turned over to hay for the London market, and by 1876 most of the parish was said to be in grass. (fn. 13) In 1834 (fn. 14) the average wage of an agricultural labourer in the parish was 10s.-12s. a week. Women and children were employed in summer in bird-scaring and haymaking. Labourers from Ireland and Oxford also helped with the haymaking. (fn. 15) This annual influx continued after 1900, and William Crees, who farmed Court Farm from 1900 to 1919, commented on the absence of mechanization and the general backwardness of farming methods in Northolt at this time. By introducing new methods, including manuring with London refuse brought by barge up the Paddington Canal, Crees built up a neglected stock farm into a prominent milk-producing establishment. (fn. 16) After 1920, however, building developments began to encroach on the agricultural land, and several 18th-century farm-houses were demolished to make way for speculative building. (fn. 17) Development was halted temporarily by the Second World War, but after 1945 a number of council estates further diminished the area available for agriculture. In 1963 farming on a limited scale was practised only in the west of the parish between Western Avenue and the Yeading Brook.

Exploitation of brickearth deposits in the south of the parish followed the opening of the Paddington Canal, and the first licence to dig brickearth was granted in 1834. (fn. 18) By 1851 there were 55 brickworkers living in the parish, (fn. 19) and four years later the Northolt field was described as 'extensive.' (fn. 20) During the 1860s, however, some of the brickearth deposits were becoming worked out, and the industry suffered a temporary decline. Two of the three brick-fields near the canal were described as 'old' in 1865, (fn. 21) and more than 150 labourers engaged in brick-making left the parish between 1861 and 1871. (fn. 22) By 1876 quantities of superior quality Northolt bricks were being despatched by barge from a specially constructed wharf for use in the construction of London sewers. (fn. 23) Improved brick-making methods were introduced in the late 19th century by the New Patent Brick Co., which until 1901 worked a field between Ruislip and the canal. The premises, sold in 1901, covered approximately 35 a., and included machine and engine rooms, a German kiln, and wharf on the canal. The field was then said to be capable of producing ten million bricks yearly; but this estimate was probably exaggerated. (fn. 24) By the beginning of the 20th century the local brickearth was becoming worked out, although smaller concerns-the West End and Middlesex Brick companies, the Southern Brick and Tile Works, and the Northolt Brick Works-continued to operate until the final closure in 1939. (fn. 25)

Outside the brick-fields only a few firms in the parish appear to have employed a labour force of more than one hundred. The Greenford Dye Works at West End and a factory manufacturing patent leather are mentioned in 1918, (fn. 26) but both seem to have closed after a short time and no further trace of the premises can be found. In 1936 Gaumont British Pictures opened a temporary film studio off Eastcote Lane. No substantial industry was established in Northolt until 1937 when the Walter Kidde Co. and Tampax Ltd. occupied the first of a group of new premises in Belvue Road on the west side of the canal. The Walter Kidde Co., engaged in the manufacture of fire protection equipment, then employed a labour force of about fifty. The firm's premises were considerably extended during the 1950s, and the number of employees had increased to about 500 by 1963. (fn. 27) At this date the premises formerly occupied by Tampax Ltd. were being used as a Metropolitan Police store. Although other small industries, chiefly light mechanical and electrical engineering concerns, have been established since 1937, forming a small complex near the canal in Belvue Road and the adjoining Rowdell Road, they are not on a sufficient scale to affect the predominantly residential character of the parish.

Part of the former brick-field area on the border with Southall parish was purchased in 1940 by Taylor Woodrow Ltd., a large civil and mechanical engineering concern who had erected offices on the Southall bank of the Paddington Canal in 1934. Offices in Northolt were built in 1954 at the junction of Ruislip Road and Adrienne Avenue. A further office block was built on the west side of the canal in 1958, and the two blocks were connected over the canal by a two-story building erected in 1960. (fn. 28) Population growth has been accompanied by very little growth of industry, and only a limited provision of social amenities. In 1922 there was only one shop in the parish. (fn. 29) No theatre or cinema had been established by 1963, and for entertainment and shops, as well as for employment, Northolt remains partially dependent on neighbouring areas.

Details of social life before the 20th century are almost entirely lacking. Until communications with London were established by the cutting of the Paddington Canal in 1801 Northolt was remote and largely unaffected by outside influences. A bowlingalley near the churchyard is mentioned in 1661, (fn. 30) but during the 17th and 18th centuries information on recreational activities is limited to those enjoyed by lords of the manor. In 1722 Northolt was advertised as an outstanding manor for game, and as including several large fish ponds stocked with perch, carp, and tench. (fn. 31)

The opening of the canal in 1801 and the coming of the brick-making industry introduced new elements into the social life of the parish. During the 19th century workers bathed in the canal, and a scheme to hold a fair on the village green was rejected in 1899 on the ground that it would attract undesirable people. (fn. 32) After 1900 the parish was developed increasingly as a recreation area for the metropolis. Between 1900 and 1920 the West London Shooting Grounds were established on land to the south-west of Down manor site, point-topoint races were held at Court Farm, and the Middlesex draghounds also met there. (fn. 33) In 1929 pony racing was started over a 1½-mile course opened at Northolt Park, between the L.N.E.R. and G.W.R. lines. The venture was financed by the Northolt Racecourse Co., which had been formed in 1928 for the purpose of concentrating pony racing at one track. Extensive cantilever stands were built, and other facilities added during the 1930s included an electric totalizator, a totalizator stand, and an artificial watering system for softening the course. For a time the track was extremely popular; (fn. 34) the course was extended in 1935 by the addition of a bridge over Dabbs Hill Lane; and a meeting was televised in 1938. Racing ceased shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, and the course was taken over as an ordnance depot. Plans to reopen the course after the war did not materialize, and in 1946 the 124-acre estate was purchased by Ealing Borough Council. The stands were demolished in 1950, and the area has since become a housing estate. (fn. 35)


  • 1. V.C.H. Mdx. i. 126.
  • 2. C 135/48/2.
  • 3. C 145/243/5; Cal. Pat. 1385-9, 481.
  • 4. W.A.M., 394, 396, 400, 401.
  • 5. Ibid. 32205.
  • 6. Ibid. 32017.
  • 7. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com), i. 417.
  • 8. M.R.O., Acc. 180/562,/565; W.A.M., N. 5, 12, 14, 15.
  • 9. W.A.M., N. 3, 5, 8, 9.
  • 10. Ibid. 131; Par. Recs., Matthew Hart Survey, 1700, 1760.
  • 11. H.O. 67/16.
  • 12. W.A.M., N. 141, 143.
  • 13. Thorne, Environs of Lond. 452.
  • 14. Rep. Poor Law Com. App. B(2), H.C. 44, p. 165h (1834), xxxvi.
  • 15. Census, 1841.
  • 16. MS. Diary of F. W. Crees penes his daughters.
  • 17. See p. 112.
  • 18. W.A.M., Northolt Ct. Min Bk.
  • 19. H.O. 107/656.
  • 20. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845).
  • 21. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Mdx. xv. 6 (1865 edn.).
  • 22. Census, 1861, 1871.
  • 23. Thorne, Environs of Lond. 452.
  • 24. Plan and advertisements of sale penes Ealing libr.; The Times, 17 Nov. 1901.
  • 25. Ex inf. Ealing Bor. Council.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Ex inf. Ealing Bor. Council and Walter Kidde Co.
  • 28. Ex inf. Taylor Woodrow Ltd.
  • 29. Ex inf. Ealing Bor. Council.
  • 30. Par. Recs.
  • 31. W.A.M., N. 62.
  • 32. Northolt Par. Council Mins. penes Ealing Bor. Council.
  • 33. MS. Diary of F. W. Crees penes his daughters.
  • 34. Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, 15 May 1936.
  • 35. L. Jayne, Pony Racing (1949); C. H. Keene, 'Northolt Park Estate', Northolt Vanguard, Jan. 1959; Plan of the Northolt Park Race Course penes Ealing libr.