Ruislip: 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, 'Ruislip: 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. 137-140. British History Online [accessed 13 June 2024].

Diane K Bolton. H P F King. Gillian Wyld. D C Yaxley. "Ruislip: 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) 137-140. British History Online, accessed June 13, 2024,

Bolton, Diane K. King, H P F. Wyld, Gillian. Yaxley, D C. "Ruislip: 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). 137-140. British History Online. Web. 13 June 2024,


The population recorded in 1086 comprised a priest, 29 villeins, seven bordars each on four acres, eight cottars, four serfs, and four Frenchmen who shared three hides and one virgate. (fn. 1) By 1248 there were at least two free tenants of the manor. One of these, Roger de la Downe (Dune), lord of the manor of Down Barns in Northolt, held a hide and there was one other single-hide holding. Twelve tenants each held half a hide and two had three-virgate holdings. Thirty-six tenants had a virgate each, six held half a virgate, and 59 had holdings of less than half a virgate. Manorial servants at this date included a cookboy at the manor and one at each of the granges at Bourne and Northwood. (fn. 2) In 1294 there were a mace-bearer, door-keeper, cook, baker, gardener, and carpenter in the manor-house. (fn. 3) At least one miller lived in the parish by 1250. (fn. 4) Among the customary tenants in 1324 were four men employed in carrying goods between Ruislip and London, a swineherd, cowherd, and hayward, as well as a woodward and a tile-counter. (fn. 5) By the 1430s there were two shopkeepers, (fn. 6) a joiner, (fn. 7) and a smith working a smithy near the manorhouse gate. (fn. 8) Until the 19th century, however, the economic history of Ruislip is predominantly agrarian. Almost one-half of the total population in 1801 was employed in agriculture. By 1831 when 206 families were so employed, only 48 families were said to gain a living by trade. (fn. 9) During the late 19th and 20th centuries, however, the opening of communications stimulated residential development and a proportionate decrease in the amount of agricultural land. Minor industrial settlement has not balanced the rapid increase in population, and the parish has developed as a residential and dormitory suburb. (fn. 10)

In 1086 there was land for 20 ploughs on the manor. The lord had 3 ploughs on his 11 demesne hides, and the villeins and Frenchmen shared 12 ploughs with room for 5 more. There was pasture for the cattle of the vill, and the woodland was sufficient to support 1,500 pigs. (fn. 11) During the period of demesne farming in the 12th and 13th centuries the amount of arable in demesne seems to have remained constant at about 900 a. (fn. 12) For convenience of working this had been divided by 1250 into three parts, directed from the manor-house at Ruislip and from granges at Northwood and Bourne in the open fields to the south. (fn. 13) Difficulties in cultivating the extensive demesne probably account for the heavy services rendered by Ruislip tenants. Although some commutation of labour services had taken place in the early 13th century, (fn. 14) in 1250 most of the tenants owed customary services. There seems to have been no consistent relationship between the size of holdings and the services rendered, but tenants holding less than half a virgate generally owed only the standard obligation to provide labour on ploughing and harvest boondays and to pay pannage. At least 27 tenants, however, rendered in addition heavy weekly services of manuring, ploughing, harrowing, reaping, shearing, and other general farm maintenance work. They also had to provide carriage to the Thames for produce exported to Bec, and transport and maintenance for monks journeying from Ruislip. About 40 tenants held 'assized' land, for which they paid an increased rent when not rendering customary services. (fn. 15) While Bec farmed the demesne, the manorial economy was dependent rather on the sale of corn and wood than on raising livestock. Wheat (961 qr.), oats (912 qr.), and peas and beans (190 qr.) were the main crops in 1289. Out of a total revenue of about £121, £31 accrued from the sale of corn and beans, £30 from wood, and £4 from wool and fleeces. Pannage brought in an additional £4. (fn. 16) Five years later, of the 907 a. cultivated in demesne, 330 a. were sown with wheat and 330 a. with oats. Animals mentioned were used chiefly for farm operations, but the stock included 121 pigs, 25 cows, and 89 sheep. Pannage was then worth 100s. (fn. 17) In 1324 the stock included 100 sheep and 30 cows in addition to draught animals. By this date labour services were not being fully utilized, since the accounts include payments to men hired for harrowing, threshing, and winnowing. (fn. 18)

During the 14th century Bec gradually lost contact with its English estates. (fn. 19) Relaxation of control during Crown confiscations seems to have encouraged disorder and changes in the agrarian economy. The demesne lands were said to be lying wholly uncultivated after disturbances in 1343, (fn. 20) and there were further disorders, apparently over land holdings, in 1391. (fn. 21) By 1435 money payments seem to have entirely replaced labour services, and much of the demesne arable had been leased to the tenants. (fn. 22)

How far the economy of the demesne arable is reflected in that of the open fields is uncertain. By 1517 inclosure for pasture in Ruislip had resulted in the destruction of four holdings of ploughland. Twelve persons were said to have been dispossessed, and four messuages had become ruinous, 'the people turned out and the praise of God decayed'. (fn. 23) A dispute between the copyhold tenants and King's College over rights of common pasture in and passage through the common fields was taken to arbitration in 1521. It seems that from about 1500 the lessees of the demesne had denied the tenants' rights in Bourne and Windmill fields and in a meadow called Bourne Wyck. Six arable holdings were said to have been turned over to pasture, 30 persons had been deprived of work, and 15 cottages had been deserted. The arbitrators supported the tenants' rights against the college, but advised them to enter the fields only by the normal access roads and not to pull down hedges. (fn. 24) About 1545 the free and copyhold tenants filed a bill in Chancery alleging that Guy Wade, the farmer of the demesne, had again denied their customary rights of pasture and passage in the common fields. (fn. 25)

Disagreements over rights in the open fields were superseded about 1570 by a prolonged dispute between the lessee, Robert Christmas, and his tenants over the precise meaning of copyhold tenure. The excessive fines he levied on the admission of copyhold tenants and other abuses of manorial custom occasioned complaints to the college. (fn. 26) In 1579 and again in 1583 the copyhold tenants and the college agreed on a scale of payments in composition of customary duties, (fn. 27) but the matter dragged on until c. 1605 when the composition agreement was ratified by Act of Parliament. The college consented to stabilize fines on admission at one year's rent, and the tenants agreed to pay double rent on rents of £40 or over. (fn. 28) Other conditions of tenure were defined in 1640. Copyholders were said to have rights of common herbage and to the soil of the waste, and to be entitled to fell trees and pull down buildings on their lands. (fn. 29)

Regulations governing the use of the open fields were normally enforced in the manor court. (fn. 30) An agreement made between the tenants in 1651 suggests, however, that the activity of the leet may have been declining. The agreement provided for a scale of fines for overloading the stubble with cattle, allowing cattle to stray in the corn, and permitting strangers to enter the common fields. (fn. 31) These regulations, with the addition of others governing the ringing of hogs, the marking of cattle and sheep, and the mending of hedges, were repeated in a leet presentment of 1742 setting out thirteen 'bye-laws' of the manor. (fn. 32)

The pattern of arable farming remained substantially unchanged during the 17th and 18th centuries. Ralph Hawtrey paid tithes on 600 a. of wheat and 600 a. of beans grown in 1722 on land leased from King's College. (fn. 33) Corn tithes paid by Elizabeth Rogers in 1756 on 1,623 a. of arable included £109 on wheat and £100 on beans. (fn. 34) In 1801 there were still 452 a. of wheat and 439 a. of beans in the parish, as well as small amounts of oats, barley, potatoes, and peas. (fn. 35) By this date, however, approximately 350 a. west of Bury Street had been inclosed under the 1769 award; (fn. 36) 557 a. of meadow and 245 a. of arable, some of which was in the open fields, (fn. 37) were said to have been inclosed by 1798. (fn. 38) In that year John Middleton advocated wholesale inclosure of the open fields, pointing out that although the open-field system had been modified in most areas by the abolition of fallow, there was still one field in Eastcote and one in Ruislip laid down to fallow every third year. (fn. 39) About 3,000 a. of the parish, including more than 2,000 a. in the open fields, were inclosed under the 1804 award, which was executed in 1814. (fn. 40) Changes in the pattern of land utilization followed and much of the inclosed land was turned over to hay. By 1880 some 4,232 a. were under mowing grass. There were also 868 cattle, 1,056 sheep, and 353 pigs. (fn. 41) In 1920, although Northolt airfield and building estates were encroaching on the arable, (fn. 42) there were still 3,328 a. of grass, 727 cattle, 555 sheep, and 247 pigs in the parish. (fn. 43) As late as 1931 there were 236 people in Ruislip still engaged in agriculture, (fn. 44) and in 1962 farming on a small scale was still practised in the north and extreme south of the parish.

There seems to have been a water-mill at Ruislip before 1248 when Roger de Southcote was paying rent for a millpond called Sitteclak. (fn. 45) In 1294 there were two mills in the manor, a windmill and a water-mill, valued together at 40s. (fn. 46) A mill of unspecified type is mentioned in a rental of 1442. (fn. 47) After this date there are no further references to mills in Ruislip, although a miller is mentioned in 1565. (fn. 48) The location of all these mills is uncertain, although Windmill Hill south of Ruislip village may indicate the site of the 13th-century windmill. The remains of what appears to be a mill leet were, and in part still are, traceable starting from a point on the Pinn near Fore Street in Eastcote, and then running north of the Manor Farm to rejoin the Pinn west of Bury Street. (fn. 49) A water-mill may possibly have been sited on Bury Street where it crosses this ditch. (fn. 50)

There was little industry in Ruislip before 1930, and only limited industrial development has occurred since that date. During the 14th century oak from the demesne woods was used for making springolds (catapults) and other military engines, and in extensions to the Tower of London. (fn. 51) Further supplies of timber were ordered in 1344 for building at Windsor Castle, and at Westminster Palace in 1346 and 1347. (fn. 52) Sales of timber and firewood were said to realize £26 a year in 1442. (fn. 53) The woods seem to have been much depleted in 1538 as the result of personal animosity and indiscriminate felling by two of the royal purveyors engaged in requisitioning timber for fencing St. James's Park. (fn. 54) Further areas of woodland were grubbed up during the 17th century. (fn. 55) In 1796, however, the lessees' sales of wood for stakes and firing were worth £119, (fn. 56) and as late as 1870 many of the inhabitants of Northwood were engaged in supplying firewood to the metropolis. (fn. 57)

Tile- and brick-making industries existed in Ruislip from at least as early as the 14th century. A tilecounter is mentioned in 1324, (fn. 58) and in 1366 Simon Molder of Ruislip sold 3,000 flat tiles at 3s. a hundred. (fn. 59) Customary rents in 1565 and 1593 included payments of tiles and bricks. (fn. 60) Three tenants keeping tile-kilns in St. Catherine's manor in 1587 had to pay the lord 1,000 tiles annually in consideration of the right to dig brickearth on the common. (fn. 61) Seven Ruislip tile-makers were presented at sessions in 1572 for infringing a 15th-century statute governing the preparation of earth for tile-making. (fn. 62) On Rocque's map of 1754 a brick-kiln is marked adjoining the modern Tile Kiln Lane. (fn. 63) In 1865 there was a brick-field in West End Road, but it appears to have closed down shortly afterwards. (fn. 64) Another brick-field at Cheney Street, Eastcote, was worked from 1899 until its closure about ten years later. (fn. 65)

There were no other industries in the parish until the 1930s, and few of the firms whose premises have since been established at Ruislip have employed a labour force of more than a hundred. The organbuilding firm of J. W. Walker & Sons, established in 1828, moved from premises in Soho to a new factory in Braintree Road in 1937. The firm has an international reputation, and buildings housing Walker organs include St. George's Chapel, Windsor, York Minster, and cathedrals all over the world. In 1962 the firm employed a labour force of about 120. (fn. 66) Air Control Installations Ltd., whose premises for the manufacture of heating and ventilating equipment were established at South Ruislip in 1937, employed nearly 600 persons in 1962. (fn. 67) A new factory was built in 1954 in Victoria Road, South Ruislip, for Hivac Ltd., an electrical engineering firm. Approximately 450 people were employed there in 1962. (fn. 68) Although other light industries, chiefly printing and engineering undertakings, have been established at South Ruislip in the 20th century, (fn. 69) they are not on a sufficient scale to affect the predominantly residential character of the parish.

Few details survive of social life in the parish before the 19th century. Before 1300 the Abbot of Bec seems to have regularly given food to the poor of Ruislip. Complaints that the practice had been discontinued stimulated an inquiry in 1331, but the abbot apparently proved that he gave the food only at pleasure, and the custom does not seem to have been revived. (fn. 70) Successive abbots of Bec in the 13th century also had rights of free warren in the Ruislip demesne lands, (fn. 71) part of which had been enclosed for hunting purposes as early as 1086. (fn. 72) The park was stocked with deer in 1270. (fn. 73) Although deer in the park are not mentioned again, during the 19th century Park Wood, covering much of the old hunting enclosure,' was a favourite resort for fox-hunting. (fn. 74) Disorders at Ruislip in 1576 involving more than 100 people were attributed to the playing of football, then an unlawful game. (fn. 75) Cricket was played at Moor Park, just over the Hertfordshire boundary with Northwood, as early as 1854 when an eleven led by Lord Ebury entertained visiting teams. Northwood C.C. took over their present ground in Rickmansworth Road about 1900. (fn. 76) Eastcote C.C., founded at least as early as 1865, still plays in the grounds of Hayden Hall. (fn. 77) The Northwood Golf Club, whose eighteen-hole course at Haste Hill was said in 1911 to be one of the best within easy reach of London, was founded in 1891. (fn. 78)

The presence of Northolt airfield and attendant air force installations has had some effect on the social life of the parish. Russian cadets trained at the airfield during the First World War, and during the Second World War units manning the R.A.F. station included Polish, Belgian, and Canadian contingents. (fn. 79) After 1945 the number of R.A.F. personnel living in the area was considerably reduced, but in 1949 the United States Air Force set up a command headquarters at South Ruislip and this was further augmented in 1951. By 1962 there were 1,733 people employed at the base. Of these 487 were United Kingdom civilians, and the remainder United States air force and civilian personnel. In addition United States nationals working at South Ruislip had 2,339 dependants living in and around Ruislip parish. (fn. 80) After some initial opposition (fn. 81) the United States personnel have been integrated into the social life of the parish.

The Ruislip Residents' Association, instituted in 1919, has played an important part in the preservation of open spaces and historic buildings, and in opposing a scheme to drive a ring-road through the parish during the 1950s. (fn. 82) Other residents' associations now exist at Eastcote, Northwood Hills, and South Ruislip. (fn. 83) The Ruislip Village Trust was founded in 1931 in order to protect the cottages near the church; (fn. 84) capital was raised through ordinary shares and the directors were to receive no remuneration. The trust, probably the first limited company of its kind to be formed, remains active in the preservation of old buildings. (fn. 85)


  • 1. V.C.H. Mdx. i. 126.
  • 2. B.M. Add. MS. 24316.
  • 3. E 106/2/1; V.C.H. Mdx. i. 203.
  • 4. B.M. Add. MS. 24316.
  • 5. S.C. 6/1126/5.
  • 6. King's Coll., R. 41.
  • 7. Ibid. 44.
  • 8. Ibid. 40.
  • 9. Census, 1801, 1831.
  • 10. See above, p. 132; Census, 1891-1951.
  • 11. V.C.H. Mdx. i. 126.
  • 12. E 106/2/1.
  • 13. B.M. Add. MS. 24316
  • 14. King's Coll., Q. 2.
  • 15. B.M. Add. MS. 24316.
  • 16. Eton Coll. Muns., drawer D.5 (uncalendared).
  • 17. E 106/2/1.
  • 18. S.C. 6/1126/5; cf. C 47/18/1/12.
  • 19. Morgan, English Lands of Bec, 117-18. See also V.C.H. Mdx. i. 203.
  • 20. Cal. Pat. 1343-5, 174.
  • 21. Ibid. 1388-92, 519.
  • 22. S.C. 6/917/26,/27.
  • 23. V.C.H. Mdx. ii. 89.
  • 24. M.R.O., Acc. 249/39.
  • 25. Ibid. /21.
  • 26. King's Coll., Q. 42/4, /6.
  • 27. King's Coll., Ledger Bk. ii; Q. 25; M.R.O., Acc. 249/ 107.
  • 28. M.R.O., Acc. 249/200; and see Acc. 249/4004-4216.
  • 29. M.R.O., Acc. 249/875, Acc. 538/1.
  • 30. e.g. M.R.O., Acc. 446/M. 100, Acc. 249/4335, /4183.
  • 31. M.R.O., Acc. 249/4113.
  • 32. Ibid. /1582.
  • 33. Ibid. /2281.
  • 34. Ibid. /2544.
  • 35. H.O. 67/16.
  • 36. See p. 131.
  • 37. M.R.O., Acc. 261/2.
  • 38. J. J. Roumieu, A History of Ruislip (1875), 7.
  • 39. Middleton, View, 151.
  • 40. M.R.O., Acc. 261/1.
  • 41. Ex inf. Min. of Agric.
  • 42. See p. 132.
  • 43. Ex inf. Min. of Agric.
  • 44. Census, 1931.
  • 45. B.M. Add. MS. 24316.
  • 46. E 106/2/1.
  • 47. King's Coll., R. 45.
  • 48. Ibid. 36.
  • 49. J. Doharty, Map of the Demesne Lands (1750): photostat copy in M.R.O.; O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. x. 5, 9 (1865 edn.).
  • 50. No evidence has been found in support of the statement that the foundations of the mill were discovered in the early 20th cent.: Braun, 'Earliest Ruislip', T.L.M.A.S. vii. 120.
  • 51. Cal. Close, 1339-41, 59.
  • 52. Cal. Pat. 1345-8, 319.
  • 53. King's Coll., R. 45.
  • 54. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiii(1), p. 526.
  • 55. King's Coll., R. 36.
  • 56. M.R.O., Acc. 249/2682.
  • 57. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1870).
  • 58. S.C. 6/1126/5.
  • 59. V.C.H. Herts. iv. 265; and see W.A.M., 32017.
  • 60. King's Coll., R. 36, 48.
  • 61. E 178/1430; cf. King's Coll., Q. 42/5.
  • 62. M.R.O., S.R. 170/1.
  • 63. Rocque, Map of Mdx.
  • 64. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Mdx. x. 9 (1865 edn.).
  • 65. Ex inf. Mr. L. E. Morris.
  • 66. Ex inf. J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd.
  • 67. Ex inf. Air Control Installations Ltd.
  • 68. Ex inf. Hivac Ltd.
  • 69. Cf. Petition (1953); Ruislip-Northwood U.D.C. Official Guide (1958).
  • 70. Cal. Close, 1330-34, 406, 419.
  • 71. Cal. Chart. R. 1226-57, 409.
  • 72. V.C.H. Mdx. i. 126.
  • 73. Cal. Close, 1268-72, 232; see below, p. 222.
  • 74. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1862).
  • 75. M.R.O., S.R. 196/18.
  • 76. Ex inf. the treasurer; W. A. G. Kemp, The Story of Northwood and Northwood Hills.
  • 77. Petition (1953), 15; W. A. G. Kemp, History of Eastcote, 109-22.
  • 78. V.C.H. Mdx. ii. 279.
  • 79. P. Brooks, 'The Northolt Story', B.E.A. Mag. nos. 71-73.
  • 80. Ex inf. the Command Historian.
  • 81. Mdx. Advertiser, 22 Apr. 1949.
  • 82. Ruislip Residents' Assoc. Minute Bks.
  • 83. Ruislip-Northwood U.D.C. Official Guide.
  • 84. See p. 130.
  • 85. Ex inf. the chairman, Ruislip Village Trust Ltd.