Acton: Social and cultural activities

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1982.

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Diane K Bolton. Patricia E C Croot. M A Hicks, 'Acton: Social and cultural activities', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden, (London, 1982), pp. 14-16. British History Online [accessed 12 June 2024].

Diane K Bolton. Patricia E C Croot. M A Hicks. "Acton: Social and cultural activities", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden, (London, 1982) 14-16. British History Online, accessed June 12, 2024,

Bolton, Diane K. Croot, Patricia E C. Hicks, M A. "Acton: Social and cultural activities", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden, (London, 1982). 14-16. British History Online. Web. 12 June 2024,


There were inns from an early date, due to Acton's position on the Oxford road. The Tabard on the Hope was mentioned in 1377 and 1505, the Cock on the Hoop from 1485, the Star and Hartshorn in 1505, and the White Lion in 1520. (fn. 1) The George existed by 1539. (fn. 2) The Cock and the Bell were listed among taverns around London by John Taylor, the 'water poet', in 1636 (fn. 3) and the vestry met at the King's Head in 1674. (fn. 4) Thirteen alehouse keepers were licensed in 1716. The number had increased to 21 by 1751, probably because of trade generated by Acton wells, when inns included the Bull's Head and the Horse and Groom in East Acton and the King's Arms by the turnpike gate near East field. By 1801 the number had dropped to 9 (fn. 5) but it rose again with the spread of housing and in 1873 there were 19, in addition to 24 beer retailers. (fn. 6) Almost all the older inns were rebuilt during the 19th century, the exception being the George and Dragon hotel in High Street: three-storeyed and with a projecting upper storey, partly timberframed and partly refronted in brick, it was probably built early in the 17th century as two houses. (fn. 7)

There was a 'bowling place' in 1622 next to the highway from London to Brentford, probably at Acton Green, (fn. 8) and a Bowling Alley field on the south side of Manor House at East Acton by the late 17th century. (fn. 9)

Acton wells, known as Old Oak wells in 1695, (fn. 10) a group of three wells on the western edge of Old Oak common, were mentioned in 1612 and widely known by 1699. The water, reputed to be one of the strongest purgatives around London, was whitish and sweet rather than salty, with a little of the bitterness of Epsom. By 1746 it was sold in large quantities in London, besides being drunk at the springs, especially in May and June. Public breakfasts were held c. 1775 and assemblies during the season. An assembly room was built, with a race course in the grounds, but by the end of the 18th century the wells were no longer in fashion and the assembly room became successively a school, a private dwelling, and a farmhouse, being pulled down in 1908. (fn. 11)

A short-lived successor to the wells was opened near by on the northern part of Old Oak common in 1870. Known as Willesden Gardens or the People's Garden, it was run by the German Club of Foley Street, London, c. 1876 as a summer biergarten, with a large dancing platform. It disappeared soon after 1885, the site becoming part of the extensive G.W.R. sidings and sheds. (fn. 12)

Friendly societies existed from 1800, meeting at public houses. The Ancient or Independent Britons met at the Blue Anchor in the Steyne from 1800 and the Young Britons also met there from 1817. The Acton friendly society met at the George and the Acton United friendly society at the King's Head, both from 1841. A court of the Ancient Order of Foresters met at the Duke of Sussex, Acton Green, from 1862 and a lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows of Manchester met at the Prince of Wales in Church Road from 1863. (fn. 13) The lodge built its own hall in Acton Lane in 1930. (fn. 14)

South Acton Working Men's Club, started in 1872, provided an important meeting place for the working class, despite some censure when one member died after a drinking bout. (fn. 15) When South Acton was rebuilt after the Second World War, the club was housed in a new building in Strafford Road.

The churches organized many social activities in the late 19th century: Baptists, for example, founded Acton Baptist cricket club and a literary society. (fn. 16) Different denominations also joined together to promote temperance. In 1878 the rector, the Congregational minister, and five residents formed the Acton Coffee PublicHouse Co., to serve non-intoxicating drinks in a public house atmosphere. (fn. 17) In 1899 the various temperance societies were loosely united with the founding of Acton Temperance Federation, to which they and the churches sent delegates. (fn. 18) The non-sectarian Acton Adult Schools, started c. 1894, also worked for temperance and against Sunday business, providing bible study and a savings bank. A women's adult school was started in 1900 and the institution was soon said to be influential. (fn. 19)

Acton Literary Institution met regularly between 1868 and 1889, (fn. 20) and Acton Scientific Society and Field Club from 1901. (fn. 21) Acton Scientific and Literary Society in the 1920s (fn. 22) may have been an amalgam of those two societies and still met in 1963, at the public library. (fn. 23) A photographic society was formed in 1904 and met until 1924, (fn. 24) an art society met at the library between 1955 and 1963, (fn. 25) and Acton Piscatorial Society held its 20th annual dinner in 1901. (fn. 26) A chess club, which met at Beauchamp's, no. 160 High Street, was founded in 1881. (fn. 27)

Acton lecture hall, built in Church Road in 1866, (fn. 28) was used by many religious and secular bodies. A lecture association, which existed in 1901, met there ten times during the winter of 1908-9. (fn. 29) In winter the larger swimming pool in the public baths was boarded over and, as the Grand Hall, used for political and social functions and dances. (fn. 30)

A cinema in Horn Lane was licensed in 1910, (fn. 31) followed by the Crown cinema c. 1913 in Mill Hill Terrace. (fn. 32) In 1921 a third cinema, the Globe at no. 128 High Street, was opened by Vesta Tilley and was said to be the largest in Britain, accommodating 3,000. (fn. 33) By 1939 the Dominion in Uxbridge Road, the Odeon in King Street, and the Savoy in West Way, East Acton, had also been opened. The Dominion was bought by Granada in 1946 and renamed, (fn. 34) becoming a bingo club by 1977. The Globe was renamed the Gaumont and in the early 1960s made way for the shopping precinct. (fn. 35) The Crown and the Kinema, Horn Lane, had both been converted to other uses by 1964 (fn. 36) and the Odeon was a shop in 1979.

The Y.W.C.A. opened the first part of its centre in East Acton Lane in 1931, intended to serve Acton, Hammersmith, and Chiswick. (fn. 37)

Flying displays were given at the London Aviation Co.'s airfield in North Acton c. 1910, and the Ruffy-Baumann flying school moved to Acton from Hendon in 1917 and operated there for two years. (fn. 38)

Acton golf club was formed in 1896, with an 18-hole course on land owned by the King Church family. The club house was Glendun House, on the north side of East Acton green, and a separate club and club house were formed for ladies. (fn. 39) The club ceased when the course was bought by the council in 1919 for a housing estate.

Much of the Goldsmiths' Company's charity estate at East Acton was used for sports grounds, leased to private clubs. Many came from elsewhere around London, such as Shepherd's Bush cricket club and West Kensington athletic club. Some local companies had sports grounds, including CAV, Eastman's, S.T.D., and Lowe & Bydone. The Gas Light & Coke Co. had a large ground on the former Elms estate and other private sports grounds were in East Acton Lane, Gunnersbury Lane, Friars Place Lane, and Willesden Lane. In 1924 there were some 17 athletic clubs and grounds, 4 cricket clubs, and 15 lawn tennis clubs. Acton bowling club met in Acton park and the council ran a badminton club. (fn. 40)

The Acton Press was founded in 1869, when it won notoriety for publishing criticism of the local board, (fn. 41) and may not have continued after 1871. A new series began c. 1898 but after 1900 was incorporated into the County of Middlesex Independent. The Acton Gazette and General District Advertiser was founded in 1871, published weekly, and continued as the Acton, Chiswick and Turnham Green Gazette from 1880 and the Acton and Chiswick Gazette from 1892. From 1900 it was known chiefly as the Acton Gazette. In 1918 it became the Acton Gazette and Express, incorporating the Acton and Chiswick Express which had been founded in 1900 as the Acton Express. Known from 1939 as the Acton Gazette and West London Post, it still appeared weekly in 1980. The District Post was founded in 1911 and renamed the Acton and Chiswick District Post and then the Acton District Post in the same year. In 1921 it was renamed the Acton Borough Post but in 1925 it was incorporated in the Acton Gazette and Express. (fn. 42)


  • 1. Cal. Close, 1374-7, 551; Cal. Inq. p.m. Hen. VII, iii, p. 282; P.R.O., PROB 11/7 (P.C.C. 18 Logge); ibid. C 142/79, no. 231.
  • 2. P.R.O., C 1/1298/9.
  • 3. Mdx. & Herts. N. & Q. iv. 78.
  • 4. Acton par. church, chwdns. acct. bk. (1674-99).
  • 5. M.R.O., MR/LV3/4, 7/4, 10/98.
  • 6. Green's Dir. Notting Hill and Acton (1873-4).
  • 7. Hist. Mon. Com. Mdx. 2.
  • 8. Guildhall MS. 10833.
  • 9. Goldsmiths' Hall, Acton Estate MS. B.III.1, no. 8, survey (probably 1682).
  • 10. Morden, Map of Mdx. (1695 edn.).
  • 11. Gent. Mag. lxxxiii (2), 556; B. Allen, Nat. Hist. of Chalybeate Waters of Eng. (1699), 126-8; S. Simpson, Agreeable Historian, ii. 620; Jolliffe, Acton, 65-7.
  • 12. Thorne, Environs, 4-5; Jolliffe, Acton, 8-9; Bacon, Ordnance Atlas (1886).
  • 13. P.R.O., FS 1/418/565; FS 1/422/950; FS 1/459/2176; FS 1/460/2183; FS 1/490/4169; FS 1/491/4198.
  • 14. Datestone.
  • 15. Acton Gaz. 8 Feb. 1901.
  • 16. Tongue, Lond. Suburb, 50, 52.
  • 17. Acton libr., articles of association (1878).
  • 18. Acton Gaz. 17 May 1901.
  • 19. Ibid. 1 Feb., 8 Mar. 1901.
  • 20. Acton libr., programmes of mtgs.
  • 21. Acton Gaz. 15 Mar. 1901.
  • 22. Acton libr., Acton Scientific and Lit. Soc. min. bk.
  • 23. Acton, Official Guide (1963), 14.
  • 24. Acton libr., min. bk.
  • 25. Acton, Official Guide (1955, 1963).
  • 26. Acton Gaz. 17 May 1901.
  • 27. Acton libr., photocopy of membership card.
  • 28. Green's Dir. Notting Hill and Acton (1873-4).
  • 29. Acton libr., programme.
  • 30. The Times, 8 July 1919, 7 Dec. 1926; Acton, Official Guide (1928), 26.
  • 31. Mdx. Local Hist. Council Bull. xviii. 21.
  • 32. M.R.O., MR/LMD, lic. application.
  • 33. The Times, 28 Mar. 1921; Acton libr., sale cat. Globe Kinemas Ltd. shares.
  • 34. Mdx. Local Hist. Council Bull. xviii. 8, 11.
  • 35. Rowland, Street Names, 8.
  • 36. Mdx. Local Hist. Council Bull. xviii. 12.
  • 37. The Times, 30 Mar. 1931.
  • 38. Acton Aerodrome (Ealing L.B. libr. svce. 1978), 1-8.
  • 39. V.C.H. Mdx. ii. 281-2.
  • 40. Acton, Official Guide (1924), 44-6.
  • 41. Ealing town hall, Acton and Southall misc. file no. 5.
  • 42. B.L. Newspaper Cat.