Acton: Economic history

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.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


Diane K Bolton. Patricia E C Croot. M A Hicks, 'Acton: Economic history', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden, (London, 1982), pp. 23-30. British History Online [accessed 12 June 2024].

Diane K Bolton. Patricia E C Croot. M A Hicks. "Acton: Economic history", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden, (London, 1982) 23-30. British History Online, accessed June 12, 2024,

Bolton, Diane K. Croot, Patricia E C. Hicks, M A. "Acton: Economic history", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden, (London, 1982). 23-30. British History Online. Web. 12 June 2024,

In this section


Agrarian history.

Agrarian History The field system of the five-hide holding that became the Somerset estate was distinct from that of Acton manor elsewhere in the parish. The estate, covering over a third of the parish, was granted out before 1086 (fn. 1) and perhaps before the common fields were formed, since it had no holdings in those fields. The holding developed from inclosures and assarts in the northern clay belt and by 1229 was composed of several crofts of arable and pasture, with some remaining woodland, and at least two farms situated away from the main settlements. (fn. 2) One farm, leased by the chapter of St. Paul's to successive deans, c. 1230 had 4 oxen, 4 horses, and 100 sheep. (fn. 3) The arable was valued at 2d. an acre in 1327, 1349, and 1373, the value in 1349 being low because the land was poor and rarely cultivated; meadow was valued at 1s. an acre in 1327, 1s. 6d. in 1373, pasture at 3d. in 1327, and woodland at 6d. at both dates, being of slight growth in 1373. (fn. 4)

In 1460 the dean leased the fields called Goderhill, Dean's Bush field, and le Pylle, crofts called Dean's Reding and Dean's five acres, and a rod of meadow in Willesden for 99 years, at an annual rent of 8 marks and 4 bu. of wheatmeal and 4 of oatmeal. The lessee covenanted to clear the land and plough and sow it within 20 years. The dean also leased 24 a. of underwood called the dean's great wood. In 1545 no great trees, only underwood, grew on the dean's lands. (fn. 5) St. Bartholomew's leased its land to a London mercer in 1453 for 60 years (fn. 6) and in 1529 leased the fields called Parkstones for 7 years. The woods and underwoods were also leased. (fn. 7) In 1543 there were some 60 oaks and elms on the estate, partly mature timber and partly cropped for use in repairs. (fn. 8) The Frowyk estate included valuable woodland, probably in the north and east parts of the parish, in 1505 and 1518. (fn. 9) By the late 16th century, however, no woodland was recorded on the Frowyk estates and most, like the dean's woods, had probably been cleared, although a Garraway tenant was able to cut 700 faggots in 1600. (fn. 10)

The Somerset estate was let in several parcels in the 16th century to tenants who are likely to have sublet. (fn. 11) In 1636 more than 700 a. of the estate of nearly 800 a. was let to William Attlee of Fulham, (fn. 12) who sublet parcels of 5 a. and less for terms of six months. (fn. 13) By 1693 the estate had six tenants holding large portions and eight holding small ones. (fn. 14) In 1736 four tenants each held houses and large portions, from 113 a. to 260 a.; one tenement was let with 2 a. and six other tenants held from 3 a. to 72 a. (fn. 15) In 1799 Fetherstonhaugh had two tenants with farmhouses and c. 232 a. and c. 227 a. respectively, and three others with between 53 a. and 124 a., some of the estate having been sold off. (fn. 16)

The Goldsmiths' Company leased its estate for 61 years in 1686 and the whole, except the house, 10 a., and an orchard, was sublet to six tenants. In 1739 there were said to be c. 166 a. of inclosed land and c. 60 a. of arable in the common fields. The estate seems to have been leased out as a whole until the early 19th century, when the company began dealing directly with the subtenants. (fn. 17)

Apart from the Somerset estate, practically all the land was held of Acton manor in free socage or by copy of court roll, forming nucleated settlements at Church Acton and East Acton, with 4 or 5 open arable fields and inclosed meadow and pasture. In 1859 about two-thirds of the open arable was freehold, (fn. 18) as were most of the individual tenements without land, such as inns, while small inclosures of waste, many of them in front of houses, were copyhold. By the 17th century several houses and grounds were therefore held by mixed tenure. Copyholds descended by Borough English to the youngest surviving son or, failing sons, to the daughters as coheirs. Entry fines were fixed at one year's quitrent and a widow's dower was settled by the homage, if her husband had not made other arrangements. The eight houses liable to find the reeve had to pay a heriot, fixed at 3s. 4d. by 1697. Tenants could let their land for three-year periods without licence. (fn. 19)

In 1552 pasture was stinted at 3 sheep, 2 cows, and a horse for each acre of meadow and pasture held, 2 sheep for each acre of arable, a cow for every 4 a. of arable, and a horse for every 6 a. of stubble. (fn. 20) Such orders were often repeated in the early 17th century. In 1611 landholders living within the manor and parish could graze 3 sheep for every 2 a., while cottagers and inhabitants without land but possessing common rights could keep 4 sheep and 2 cows or a cow and a horse only. Occupants of cottages built within the last 20 years had no sheep commons but could keep a cow. (fn. 21) In 1612 landholders could again graze 2 sheep for every acre and 12 for each house or cottage, but bachelors could not keep any. (fn. 22) In 1637 tenants had to wait 20 days after the corn was cleared before turning sheep into the stubble, and in 1651 the order was repeated, with a 14-day wait, for Church field and South field only. (fn. 23)

Some 25 years before parliamentary inclosure in 1859 tenants had agreed not to turn animals into the fields. (fn. 24) Orders concerning the fields had ceased by 1670. Four open arable fields survived in 1859: Church field, South field, Turnham field, and East field, together with a small common meadow called Townham or Towney mead in the south-east corner of South field. They contained c. 360 a. in 1859, but some piecemeal inclosures had already been made. (fn. 25) An open field called North field had existed east of Friars Place green and north of East Acton in 1588; (fn. 26) 40 a. there were already inclosed by 1556 and held by one tenant. That tenant was one of four presented for converting areas of 30-120 a. to pasture. (fn. 27) In the late 17th century three fields called North fields, totalling 19 a. and belonging to the Goldsmiths' Company, were 'now inclosed' but to be common after the crops had been taken. Inclosures were also being made in East field, where a new 10-a. close south of the manor house existed at the same date, (fn. 28) and in Turnham field 5 a. had been recently inclosed by 1695. (fn. 29) Customary holdings in the open fields apparently had no standard size by the 16th century, and the land held by each tenant showed little sign of having been equally divided between the fields. (fn. 30) None of the orders indicates the existence of a common rotation, nor that one field remained fallow each year, but in 1637 tenants were not to inclose Lammas grounds, which were grazed in common from August to March, (fn. 31) and in 1641 all landholders in the common fields were to observe ancient custom and not crop their land out of rotation, with a heavy fine for every acre so ploughed. (fn. 32)

Commons listed in 1618 were Old Oak common of 60 a., which had been cleared of trees by the chapter of St. Paul's as part of Sutton Court manor in Chiswick, and Rushie green, 5 a. leading towards Willesden, (fn. 33) which apparently lay just east of Worton green. (fn. 34) The two greens together covered the area known later as Friars Place green. Householders and inhabitants of the manor were allowed to use the commons, (fn. 35) where grazing was stinted for certain categories. In 1611 cottagers could keep no more than 12 sheep on the common and bachelors could keep none. (fn. 36) In 1616 no cottage built on the waste during the previous 60 years was to have common for more than 6 sheep and a cow, (fn. 37) and in 1619 no cottager could keep more than 6 sheep, a cow, a heifer, and a colt on the common. (fn. 38)

Old Oak common was said to contain 200 a. in 1590, when it was called Old Holt wood, by then consisting mainly of oak scrub and thorn bushes. (fn. 39) Acton wells, with two houses including the White House, stood there in 1758, and by 1821 some 3 a. around the wells and houses had been inclosed. In 1800 the chapter of St. Paul's sold its rights in the common to the duke of Devonshire, who in turn sold them in 1821 to Thomas Church. Since the parishioners had enjoyed pasture rights for all kinds of cattle throughout the year, they received compensation in 1805 for land taken for the Paddington canal and in 1837 for the G.W.R. Inclosure of the common, estimated at c. 120 a. of open grass and furze, was proposed in 1813 by the chief landowners, and the vestry upheld the parish's claims by obtaining the key of a house built on the common for the Quarter-Master General, who had a lease from the chapter. In 1842 c. 104 a. were still supervised by the parish overseers, (fn. 40) but in 1862 Henry John King Church fenced most of the common and successfully sued eight leading landowners who pulled down his fences: usage by the commoners was adjudged to have originated through a 'blunder'. A small area in the south remained open, being used as an emergency landing ground for aircraft in the 1930s, (fn. 41) and later became part of the adjoining Wormwood Scrubs common in Hammersmith.

In 1842 there were 185 a. of common land outside the open fields. Apart from Old Oak common, the only large area was Acton Green common of c. 17 a., (fn. 42) which had not been listed in 1618, probably because it was considered part of Turnham Green common.

Fragmentary evidence suggests that in the early modern period farming was mixed, with references to wheat, horses, fat cattle, (fn. 43) sheep, (fn. 44) and pigs. (fn. 45) An innholder claimed in 1668 that she had never heard of barren or dry cattle being pastured in the parish, although for many years she had grazed travelling and saddle horses for a single night. (fn. 46) In 1706 Acton was said to be sown every year with all sorts of grain, for which its soil was very suitable; crops were good, especially peas, and intermixed arable and meadow produced a chequered landscape. (fn. 47) By 1800 the land was mostly meadow and pasture. A little market garden ground existed around Acton Green, although only 10 a. had been recorded in the 1790s, and about a third of the rest of the parish was arable, mainly in the southern part in the four open fields. (fn. 48)

Of 740 a. of Fetherstonhaugh's estate leased in 1799, grassland amounted to 425 a. and arable to 315 a.; 70 a. of the arable were laid down to grass between 1800 and 1805. Most of the arable was on the two large farms each of over 200 a., whose tenants agreed to keep a total of 200 a. as meadow for the last seven years of their leases. On those two farms the main arable crops between 1800 and 1805 were wheat, beans, and oats, with smaller acreages of tares and, in 1805, of peas, potatoes, and clover. (fn. 49) In 1870 in the parish as a whole 345 a. of crops were fairly equally distributed between corn and field vegetables, with another 916 a. returned as under grass. (fn. 50) There were 408 cattle, including 253 milk cows, 177 sheep, and 558 pigs. The number of milk cows had declined to c. 100 by 1890 but reached 166 in 1900; in 1888 there were 19 registered dairies or milkshops and in 1901 there were 8 cowkeepers and 68 dairies or shops. In 1914 there were 2 keepers with c. 110 cows and in 1919 there was only one, who stopped keeping cows during the year, although in 1920 there were still 21 milk cows in the parish. (fn. 51) From 1900 other cattle were generally young animals. Sheep were usually less numerous than cows but in 1917, possibly because of the war, there were c. 20 ewes and lambs and 773 sheep of one year or more. Pigs were recorded at 558 in 1870 and 322 in 1900, when returns probably underestimated the number of small keepers in South Acton. Farms in Old Oak Lane were well known for their piggeries in the late 19th century (fn. 52) and probably used Old Oak common for grazing. Discouragement by the medical officer of health had some success: 13 piggeries in 1901, 10 of them in Old Oak Lane, had been reduced to 3 in 1904, partly through persuading landlords to put pressure on their tenants, (fn. 53) but there were still at least 183 pigs in 1920.

The amount of arable declined from 412 a. in 1880 to 137 a. in 1890, 52 a. in 1910, and 7 a. in 1920; the proportion devoted to corn dropped to less than a quarter in 1890, while potatoes and field crops increased. Most of the farmland that survived the spread of building was converted to permanent grass, whose acreage in the returns rose to 1,211 a. in 1890. Thereafter it fell as the farmland shrank, although 423 a. remained in 1914 and 94 a. in 1920.

Market gardening was less widespread than in neighbouring Chiswick and developed later, as many surviving patches of open land were not large enough to be worth cultivating commercially. In 1873 four market gardens existed in the southern part of the parish, mostly near Acton Green. (fn. 54) In 1880 there were 92 a. of market garden, besides 12½ a. of orchard, and in 1890 79 a. of market garden, besides 50½ a. of orchard.


Acton manor apparently had four mills in the 16th century, (fn. 55) although only two have been located with certainty. A windmill stood at the eastern end of Church field, south of the footpath to East Acton, on part of the modern Acton park, (fn. 56) where the waste in front of the mill was mentioned in 1622. (fn. 57) The occupier was William Harding, miller and corn dealer, in 1851 (fn. 58) but the mill was pulled down probably before 1877, when the Goldsmiths' Company planned building near by. Another windmill stood on the site of the Elms or its grounds, in West Acton. It was sold in 1641, leased to a miller in the mid 17th century, and depicted c. 1677, but probably made way for the Elms in the early 18th century. (fn. 59) A third mill may have stood near Mill Hill Park, which was known as Windmill hill c. 1810. (fn. 60) Steyne mills included a mill house in 1728, when it was used as a tanyard, and may originally have been a water mill. (fn. 61)

Trade And industry.

First and Second brickfields, near Mason's green and so named in 1799, indicated early exploitation of Acton's extensive brickearth. (fn. 62) When suburban housing began to spread, several brickmaking agreements were drawn up, generally with building leases. The Goldsmiths' Company made agreements between 1868 and 1901 over the former Church field and East field, the latter passing to East Acton Brickworks & Estates in 1888. (fn. 63) Springfield Park brickworks on the north side of the G.W.R. line existed by 1894, as did brickworks in South field and the Atlas brick and tile works by the Grand Union canal; (fn. 64) the Willesden & Acton Brick Co. operated from Leamington Park by 1905. (fn. 65)

Gravel was dug from the banks of Stamford brook's western branch at the Steyne, where free tenants were ordered to stop taking gravel in 1622. (fn. 66) Gravel pit field bordered the stream just north of Acton Farm in 1828 (fn. 67) and another field, just west of Church field along the London road, had a gravel pit in 1723. (fn. 68)

In 1232 the bishop of London was granted the right to hold a market at his manor of Acton every Monday, (fn. 69) but the market was not recorded later. Early occupations included those of a cordwainer in 1388, (fn. 70) a brewer in 1477, (fn. 71) a female tailor and a horse gelder in 1610, (fn. 72) a silkweaver in 1611, (fn. 73) a collar maker in 1641, (fn. 74) a draper in 1697, (fn. 75) a glazier in 1718, (fn. 76) a soapboiler in 1780, (fn. 77) and a peruke maker and a watchmaker in 1785. (fn. 78)

William Finch, a tanner in Acton in 1633, settled two tanyards and equipment in 1670 on his son William, who left them to his wife and son Thomas in 1701. (fn. 79) By 1728 the tanyard included a mill house (fn. 80) and was afterwards known as Steyne mills. It was later owned by Samuel Williams and William Wingfield, fellmongers, and then by William Gee, fellmonger. Gee bought the adjoining Finches field, which had warehouses and tanpits, with a piece of land in Diana's Spring field, in order to secure the water supply. (fn. 81) The property remained in the Gee family and was known as Steyne mills by 1832, when John Charles Gee & Co. made Lapland rugs and footwear, besides scouring blankets and counterpanes. (fn. 82) By 1873 it was the steam laundry of Rush & Co., (fn. 83) later renamed the Empire Steam Laundry and owned by F. A. Baldwin. It was a jam and pickle factory of the Co-operative Wholesale Society from 1916 to 1962 and was afterwards demolished. (fn. 84)

In 1801, out of a population of 1,425, 141 people worked chiefly in trade, crafts, or manufacture, and 215 in agriculture. In 1831 128 families were engaged in trade or manufacture and 182 in agriculture. (fn. 85) Only services for the immediate neighbourhood were provided then and for most of the 19th century, (fn. 86) except by Steyne mills and later by the laundries.

Cheap housing in South Acton after 1860 seems to have attracted laundries from Notting Hill and Kensington, which were becoming too densely built up. Nearby brickworks, where laundresses' husbands could work, and the presence of soft water were also thought to explain the rapid growth of laundries. By 1873 there were c. 60, nearly all hand laundries on the Mill Hill estate and including a dye works in Enfield Road, and by 1890 there were over 170, still mainly small hand laundries in South Acton. In 1901 Acton's residents included 2,448 women and 568 men who worked in the laundry service, which was the largest employer of women. During the First World War many laundries closed and others installed power, although most firms remained small. In the 1930s Acton was still a centre of the trade and in 1956, when the borough had only 50 laundries, none of them hand laundries, it was still claimed to be the largest laundry town in Britain. (fn. 87)

In 1901 transport was the leading employer of men and was followed closely by building, the two together accounting for nearly a third of the male workforce, while laundries and domestic service accounted for about two-thirds of the female. (fn. 88) By 1921, after the arrival of large manufacturers, men were employed chiefly in metal work, including engineering and fitting, followed by transport, commerce, and clerical work, which together accounted for half the male workers. Three-quarters of the employed women were still in personal service, laundries, and clerical work. Acton's 20th-century industrial growth, while attracting many non-resident workers, did not provide occupations for all its residents. In 1957, when nearly three times as many employees lived outside the borough as in it, the population increased by 20,000 during each working day. In 1979, out of c. 60,000 employed in Acton, only a quarter lived in the borough, while 25,000 residents worked elsewhere. (fn. 89)

Several large firms took sites in Acton Vale and South Acton between 1900 and 1908. (fn. 90) In the late 1920s and 1930s North Acton, linked with Park Royal, was built over with large and small factories. (fn. 91) After the Second World War redevelopment schemes permitted the separation of industrial from residential premises in part of South Acton and led to the creation of an industrial estate between Bollo Lane, Stanley Road, Bollo Bridge Road, and the North London railway, where there were several small light industries. In 1957 the borough had 719 factories, workshops, and other industrial premises, most of them in North Acton and Acton Vale, (fn. 92) and was said to have one of the two largest concentrations of industry south of Birmingham. (fn. 93) A small chamber of commerce was founded in 1909 (fn. 94) and survived in 1980. (fn. 95)

Acton Vale.

Large firms, mainly electrical and mechanical engineers seeking space near London, began moving into the district in 1900 and concentrated on the south side of Acton Vale, with a few major exceptions elsewhere in South Acton. By 1905 several small firms, including E. Bristow, makers of 'Roundwood' cycles, a plating works, and parquet flooring makers, were in the Parade, Acton Vale. (fn. 96) By 1932 the motor industry employed 5,400 or nearly four-fifths of the workers in the district and the chemical industry 1,300. Makers of musical instruments employed 250, of foodstuffs 200, of swords and razors and lithographic products 320, and of electrical heating equipment 50. Apart from one motor assembling factory, the seven largest firms, employing 6,000 between them, had all been founded between 1900 and 1908. (fn. 97) In 1952 there were some 29 firms with 7,430 workers. (fn. 98) Since the Second World War the closure of a few big factories, such as the Napier works whose site became Acton Park industrial estate, has made room for smaller concerns. Many newcomers, including clothing retailers and a brewery, acquired warehouse and distribution centres for London and the south of England.

Eastman & Son built a new cleaning and dyeing works in 1901 on a 6-a. site east of Vale Grove, 1½ a. near St. Barnabas's church being used for housing and the rest for departments which included the silk dyeing formerly done in iron buildings in the Steyne. (fn. 99) The company was renamed Associated Dyers & Cleaners c. 1936. (fn. 100)

Wilkinson Sword Co. occupied a large site in Southfield Road, containing a former brickfield, by 1905. In addition to swords and razors, before the First World War the company made the Wilkinson Sword motor cycle and the Deemster motor car, which was made by the Ogston Motor Co. of Acton from 1914 until the 1920s. The firm sold part of its site to the U.D.C. in 1908 for Southfield Road recreation ground and by 1972 had moved to Brunel Road, near Old Oak common, where c. 40 craftsmen made up to 8,000 swords a year. (fn. 101)

D. Napier & Sons, engineers, in 1902 bought 3¾ a. in Stanley Gardens, a site easily accessible for customers. Another 2¾ a. were added in 1904, when c. 500 men were employed, and quickly built over. The most important work at the factory was on the first commercially successful six-cylinder engine, designed by S. F. Edge in 1903, Napier's major contribution to the development of the motor car. The works employed 1,000 by 1906, when over 200 cars a year were made, besides motor boat engines. Aero engines were built under government contract from 1914, followed by airframes, requiring a new workshop on land facing Uxbridge Road, east of the existing offices, and making a total factory area of 8½ a. In 1916 c. 1,700 were employed. The company concentrated on aero engines after the war, reaching a peak of 50 a month in 1927. In 1939 it took a building in Park Royal to test engines, but business declined after 1945. The Acton factories were closed c. 1960 and the site later became Acton Park industrial estate. (fn. 102)

Evershed & Vignoles, makers of electrical equipment, were founded in 1895 and moved to Acton Lane, near Acton Green, from Westbourne Park in 1903. They made steering and target equipment for the Royal Navy during the First World War and afterwards extended their site, employing c. 500 during the late 1920s. Numbers rose to over 1,000 in the Second World War, when aircraft instruments were also made, and to over 1,500 by the early 1960s. The company became part of Thorn Electronics in 1971 and concentrated the making of defence electronic equipment at Acton Lane, where c. 450 were employed in 1980. (fn. 103)

Charles A. Vandervell moved his company later known as CAV, which made accumulators, electric carriage lamps, and switchboards, from Willesden to Warple Way in 1904. Between 1904 and 1908 the firm pioneered the dynamo-charged battery principle and in 1911 it produced the world's first public service vehicle lighting system, used on a double-decker bus. Vehicle electrics and aircraft magnetos were made by 600 employees in 1916 and 1,000 by 1918. Wireless components were also made from 1923. In 1926 CAV was bought by Joseph Lucas Ltd. and in partnership with Robert Bosch Ltd. it began making fuel injection pumps for the new diesel industry and, in the Second World War, fuel systems for aircraft. From 1978 the company's name was Lucas CAV. The group's headquarters remained at Warple Way, where in 1980 c. 3,000 employees made heavy duty electric equipment for commercial vehicles. (fn. 104)

Other motor car manufacturers who arrived before the First World War included Panhard & Levasseur in Warple Way by 1909, where the site was later occupied by Sunbeam Talbot. (fn. 105) Darracq-Clement-Talbot and W. & G. du Cros had motor works in the Vale by 1924 (fn. 106) and Smith Motor Accessories took part of the Bronnley factory in 1918. (fn. 107) The New Engine (Motor) Co. made N.E.C. aero engines at its Acton hill works in 1911. (fn. 108)

H. Bronnley & Co., which made soap and other toilet preparations, was founded in 1883 in Holborn by James Heilbron and built a factory in Warple Way in 1904, where it remained in 1958. (fn. 109)

H. W. Nevill Ltd. had built a factory on the Berrymead Priory estate by 1905, at no. 364 Acton Lane, to make patent bread. (fn. 110) It later took over the Priory as an administrative and welfare block and was still there in 1947, but by 1977 it had left and the bakery had been demolished. (fn. 111)

Although by 1923 hardly any of the meat sold locally was slaughtered in Acton, a few slaughterhouses were still operated by wholesale meat and food processing firms, the chief of which was T. Wall & Son. In 1926 an Aldgate firm bought a slaughterhouse in Hanbury Road, for producing kosher meat on a considerable scale, and was operating in 1938. (fn. 112) Walls bought the 6-a. site of Friars Place house and grounds in 1919 and built a factory there to make sausages, pies, and brawn, with a slaughterhouse in Warple Way to which pigs were driven from the G.W.R. line. In 1936 the company built a bacon factory for slaughtering and processing at Atlas Road, near Old Oak common; one of the largest of its kind, it employed 350 people, 200 of them in production, in 1949. From 1956 the Friary factory concentrated on ice cream, all the meat business moving to Atlas Road, and in 1958 the two factories together employed over 3,000, with 514 at Atlas Road in 1964. The Atlas Road factory was closed c. 1978 and the Friary factory employed 800 in 1980. (fn. 113)

North Acton.

A few factories appeared in the late 19th century near the Grand Junction canal and Willesden junction. Naphtha works were established in Old Oak Common Lane, beside the canal, by 1866 (fn. 114) but closed between 1885 and 1894, when the site was occupied by saw mills. (fn. 115) Willesden Paper & Canvas Works, Old Oak Common Lane, south of the canal, formed a company in 1868 to pioneer waterproof paper and in 1873 opened an experimental factory, which was expanded in 1888. During the First World War the company made tents by applying its waterproofing process to textiles. In 1924 it was reorganized as Willesden Dux Oriental, still at the canal bank works, but by 1932 the site had been sold. (fn. 116)

In the north-west corner of the parish land south of the London Midland railway was used as an aerodrome by the London Aviation Co. in 1910, and Ruffy, Arnell & Baumann began developing an aeroplane there in 1917. They were taken over by the Alliance Aeroplane Co., formed by Waring & Gillow the furniture makers, and a huge factory and hangar were built on the airfield, a little south of the line later taken by Western Avenue. De Havilland triplanes and biplanes were made there at the end of the First World War but by 1919 Alliance had developed its own Seabird long-distance aeroplane, with a Napier 'Lion' engine, which won the Acton to Madrid air race in 1919. A projected flight to Australia was abandoned when a later model crashed and in 1920 the company closed. The factory was then used by several manufacturers, including Renault, which built another factory beside it, and was later leased to the Ministry of Aviation. During the Second World War parts of airframes were made there, until in 1945 W. H. Smith & Son bought the factory and used part for making stationery. Smith's sold it in 1973 and it then served various firms for storage. (fn. 117)

Park Royal.

Industry in North Acton after the First World War was linked with the growth of Park Royal, whose centre lay in Willesden and which extended over West Twyford to form the leading industrial area in west Middlesex. There were good rail services with the G.W.R.'s Birmingham line, sidings built for the Royal Agricultural Society's show ground, and passenger transport from Willesden, the main source of labour. The opening of Western Avenue provided a quick route into the west end of London and further encouraged firms to move there. (fn. 118)

As in neighbouring North Acton, Park Royal had a few factories before 1914, the chief of which are noticed individually below. By 1919 Cumberland Avenue had several large factories, mainly engineering, employing over 1,200 workers; Acton Lane, Harlesden, had three, including the Metropolitan Electric Supply Co.'s generating station employing 320; Waxlow Road had two, employing 1,190, mostly at McVitie & Price, and Barratts Green Road had a laundry, employing 70. (fn. 119)

During the First World War, Park Royal was used as a large horse compound for the Royal Army Service Corps. (fn. 120) Munitions factories, employing mainly Willesden residents, were built in Willesden Lane and Victoria Road, Acton, and closed towards the end of 1918, (fn. 121) becoming derelict. In 1928 the government sold 5 a. with their buildings to Allnatt Ltd., for scrap metal sorting, and offers received for the premises revealed a growing demand for small ready-built factories. (fn. 122) Allnatts acquired more land and from 1929 built cheap all-purpose factories on what became the Chase estate, producing just over one a fortnight. Small plants thus predominated in the area and in two years most of the estate was covered. (fn. 123) In the 1930s bigger factories also were built, for particular firms, especially on the Western Avenue estate. In 1932 Park Royal consisted of Victoria Road with 28 factories, the Chase estate with 34, the Great Western estate with 5, Western Avenue with 6, and Cumberland Avenue with 10, together employing 13,400. The largest workforces made foodstuffs, electrical equipment, motors, paper products, and non-electrical machinery. (fn. 124)

In 1952 industry in Park Royal covered 335 a. but only five firms had more than 1,000 employees. Engineering plants had an average of 73 workers, while electrical engineering firms were the largest with an average of 230 and food and drink firms had 202. In the northern part were a few very large factories, with an average workforce of 387, compared with 105 for the whole of Park Royal: Heinz, with 1,500, was the largest in 1952. (fn. 125)

By 1971 industry covered 1,290 a. between the Bakerloo line in the north-east and Western Avenue in the south, besides the former airfield south of the road, and 39,000 people were employed in c. 500 firms. The largest landowner, Allnatt (London) Ltd., was still building on several sites in the 1970s, including a large area in Park Royal Road, and another company was building on the former Walls site in Atlas Road, while major rebuilding in Cumberland Avenue involved new warehousing. (fn. 126) During a general industrial decline in north-west London, however, c. 70 firms left the Park Royal and Wembley estates in the six years to 1977, with the loss of nearly 6,000 jobs. In 1977 the G.L.C. decided to spend £1 million on Park Royal, in order to bring back skilled workers who were moving to new towns, but the plans were opposed by established firms who were already short of skilled labour. (fn. 127) The range of products made or stored in Park Royal is enormous. As in Acton Vale, the area is particularly useful as a warehousing and distribution centre for goods made elsewhere, and for service and spares depots for vehicles and household appliances. A few of the leading employers or manufacturers are noticed below.

McVitie & Price in 1902 built a biscuitmaking factory in Waxlow Road, Harlesden, which employed 1,150 in 1919. By the Second World War 2,000 workers made 300 varieties of biscuit. In 1948 the company joined McFarlane Lang to become United Biscuits. A packing hall and warehouse were built between 1967 and 1969. In 1978 the factory, the largest biscuit factory in the western world, employed 1,600, with another 1,000 in the offices. (fn. 128)

Lancashire Dynamo & Crypto, Acton Lane, Harlesden, originated as Crypto Electrical Co., formed in 1899 in Bermondsey. It moved to Acton Lane in 1913 and employed 175 in 1919. In 1932 it merged with Lancashire Dynamo of Trafford Park (Manchester) and began making food-preparing machinery, employing 600 at Acton Lane in 1949 but reducing its staff in 1966. (fn. 129)

Park Royal Vehicles in Abbey Road, a division of British Leyland, originated as Hall, Lewis & Co., which began making railway waggons at Park Royal in 1919. In the 1920s it turned to motor car bodies and by 1925 it was also building motor buses. The firm was taken over in 1930 by Park Royal Coachworks and in 1946 became a public company as Park Royal Vehicles, chiefly making public vehicles. It became part of Leyland Motors in 1962 and employed c. 600 in 1978, mainly in building the new Titan doubledecker motor buses, but in 1979 closure was announced for 1980. (fn. 130)

Rank Hovis McDougall Foods moved to Victoria Road from Tower Hill, London, in 1923, and made additions to its factory in 1936, 1956, and 1964. In 1978 the site was used for offices, garages, and warehousing, employing c. 420. (fn. 131)

Chesebrough-Pond also moved to Victoria Road in 1923, as the Chesebrough Manufacturing Co., which had formerly been in Holborn. The company took over Pond's Extract Co. of Perivale in 1956 and in 1964 Pond's, with three other companies which had become part of the group, moved to Park Royal. In 1978 the factory made Vaseline and Q-tips products, employing c. 350. (fn. 132)

H. J. Heinz & Co. opened a factory in Waxlow Road in 1925 for making bottled goods. By 1928 capacity had doubled and the introduction of can-making for baked beans led to steady expansion. The original site of 1¼ a. had increased to 48 a. by 1949 and 55 a. by 1964, while the staff of 2,000 in 1949 rose to c. 2,500 by 1953 and c. 3,500 in 1964. Administrative and research staff were moved to Hayes Park, in Hayes, in 1964, allowing a costly expansion programme on the factory site, where c. 2,500 were employed in 1978. (fn. 133)

Harold Wesley began making envelopes in the 1900s in Finsbury and moved to an 11-a. site in Acton Lane on the Willesden boundary in 1925. Part of the land was used for company housing, built by a subsidiary company called Wesley Estates. The factory made stationery and plastic articles, employing 1,000 at its peak but later only c. 150. (fn. 134)

Vandervell Products originated as the O. & S. Oilless Bearing Co. in Victoria Road and was bought in 1927 by Charles A. Vandervell, whose son G. A. Vandervell was made director. Known as Vandervell Products from 1933, the company produced the revolutionary thin-wall engine bearings from 1935, and a new factory, designed by Sir Aston Webb, was built in Western Avenue, where the staff was increased to 200. During the Second World War the company began making bearings for the Napier 'Sabre' aero engine, and after the war a special plant was built, producing 350 sets a week. From 1949 it made bearings for racing cars and from 1954 it raced its own car, the Vanwall Special. In 1958 Vanwalls won six of the ten championship races and dominated European Formula One racing, bringing British cars to the forefront and causing Acton to be compared with Modena, the Italian home of Ferrari. Racing ceased in 1959 on the retirement of G. A. (Tony) Vandervell and in 1967 the company was bought by G.K.N. Production of bearings was concentrated at Maidenhead (Berks.) and the Acton works were closed in 1970. (fn. 135)

Landis & Gyr, incorporated in 1912, built premises in Victoria Road in 1927, bringing together its offices from Stonebridge Park and its factory from Hampton Hill. The premises were later extended and a new office block was opened in 1961. Originally used for making electricity meters, from 1972 the factory also made heating and ventilating controls, and in 1979 most of the company's 1,000 employees worked in Acton. (fn. 136)

The British Can Co. was established by the American Can Co. in 1929 and fitted out a factory at Acton. In 1931 Metal Box took over British Can and continued to use the factory for making open-top cans for food processors, remaining a leading employer in the 1970s. (fn. 137)

Arthur Guinness, Son & Co. (Park Royal) bought c. 130 a. in Park Royal in 1933 and built what was the largest brewery in the country by 1949, when it had 1,100 workers. By 1976 the brewery employed between 750 and 1,000. (fn. 138)

Waterlow & Sons, printers, moved to a new factory in Twyford Abbey Road in 1936 from premises in central London. In 1977 it had 700 employees. (fn. 139)

Elizabeth Arden moved its London factory from Coach and Horses Yard (Westm.) to a new factory at no. 140 Wales Farm Road in 1939. The company became part of Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Co., U.S.A., in 1971. The Acton factory continued to make and distribute cosmetic products in the U.K., employing 311 in 1979. (fn. 140)


  • 1. T.L.M.A.S. xxviii. 316.
  • 2. Early Charters of St. Paul's, 264-7.
  • 3. Ibid. 238-9.
  • 4. P.R.O., C 143/195, no. 11; C 143/294, no. 5; C 143/380, no. 14.
  • 5. Ibid. E 318/Bx 19/956.
  • 6. Ibid. PROB 11/4 (P.C.C. 4 Stokton).
  • 7. Ibid. E 303/9 Lond./271, 289.
  • 8. Ibid. E 318/Box 19/953.
  • 9. Ibid. PROB 11/15 (P.C.C. 15 Adeane); PROB 11/20 (P.C.C. 5 Maynwaryng).
  • 10. P.R.O., PROB 11/95 (P.C.C. 36 Wallopp, will of Hen. Fearne).
  • 11. Hist. MSS. Com. 39, 15th Rep. II, p. 259.
  • 12. B.L. Add. MS. 5501, ff. 70 and v.
  • 13. M.R.O., Cal. Mdx. Sess. Bks. i(A), p. 33.
  • 14. Ibid. F 34/1-10.
  • 15. Ibid. Acc. 617/46.
  • 16. Guildhall MS. 12697.
  • 17. Goldsmiths' Hall, Acton Estate MS. B.III.1, no. 8.
  • 18. M.R.O., MR/DE/ACT.
  • 19. Ibid. Acc. 538(i)/42/2.
  • 20. P.R.O., SC 2/189/24.
  • 21. Ibid. SC 2/189/34.
  • 22. Ibid. SC 2/190/2.
  • 23. Ibid. SC 2/190/10, 15.
  • 24. Harper Smith, 'East Acton', 27.
  • 25. M.R.O., MR/DE/ACT.
  • 26. Goldsmiths' Hall, Acton Estate MS. B. III. 1, no. 4.
  • 27. Hist. MSS. Com. 39, 15th Rep. II, p. 259.
  • 28. Goldsmiths' Hall, Acton Estate MS. B. III. 1, no. 8.
  • 29. Guildhall MS. 10465/11.
  • 30. Based on ct. rolls and conveyances.
  • 31. P.R.O., SC 2/190/10.
  • 32. Ibid. SC 2/190/11.
  • 33. Ibid. SC 2/190/5.
  • 34. M.L.R. 1729/5/63-4.
  • 35. M.R.O., Acc. 538(i)/42/2.
  • 36. P.R.O., SC 2/189/34.
  • 37. Ibid. SC 2/190/2.
  • 38. Guildhall MS. 10833.
  • 39. Para. based on M.R.O., Acc. 531/add./56-70.
  • 40. P.R.O., IR 29/21/1.
  • 41. Briggs, Mdx. Old and New, 168.
  • 42. P.R.O., IR 29/21/1.
  • 43. P.R.O., PROB 11/95 (P.C.C. 36 Wallopp, will of Hen. Fearne).
  • 44. Guildhall MS. 9171/8, f. 105; P.R.O., PROB 11/30 (P.C.C. 1 Pynnyng, will of Rob. Evelyn).
  • 45. Year Bk. 12 Edw. III (Selden Soc. lxxxi), 77; ct. rolls.
  • 46. P.R.O., E 134/20-1 Chas. II/Hil. 9.
  • 47. Bowack, Antiquities, 49, 59.
  • 48. Milne, Land Use Map of Mdx. (1800); Lysons, Environs, ii. 1.
  • 49. Para. based on Guildhall MS. 12697 (survey bk.).
  • 50. Following 3 paras. based on P.R.O., MAF 68/250 (1870); MAF 68/706 (1880); MAF 68/1276 (1890); MAF 68/1846 (1900); MAF 68/2416 (1910); MAF 68/2815 (1917); MAF 2980 (1920).
  • 51. For dairies and cowkeepers: Acton U.D.C. Rep. of M.O.H. (1888), 16; (1901), 27; (1914), 71; (1919), 18.
  • 52. Baker, Acton, 147.
  • 53. Acton U.D.C. Rep. of M.O.H. (1901), 28; (1904), 78.
  • 54. Green's Dir. Notting Hill, Acton (1873-4).
  • 55. P.R.O., C 66/1112, mm. 14-15. The fig. is not reliable.
  • 56. P.R.O., IR 29/21/1.
  • 57. Guildhall MS. 10833.
  • 58. P.R.O., HO 107/1699.
  • 59. Above, manors and other est.; Ogilby, Map of Mdx. (c. 1677).
  • 60. Guildhall libr., Pr. V/ACT (plan of Fetherstonhaugh's est.).
  • 61. M.R.O., Acc. 276/27.
  • 62. Guildhall MS. 12697.
  • 63. Goldsmiths' Hall, Acton Estate MSS. old nos. 174-7, 238.
  • 64. O.S. Map 6", Mdx. XXI. NW. (1891-4 edn.).
  • 65. Suburban Dir., Trade (1905).
  • 66. Guildhall MS. 10833.
  • 67. Acton libr., Acton farm sale cat.
  • 68. M.L.R. 1725/1/529-30.
  • 69. P.R.O., C 54/43, m. 16.
  • 70. Ibid. CP 25(1)/151/78, no. 99.
  • 71. Guildhall MS. 9171/6, f. 225v.
  • 72. M.R.O., Cal. Mdx. Sess. Rec. iii. 165.
  • 73. Ibid. vii. 87.
  • 74. P.R.O., SC 2/190/11.
  • 75. Ibid. PROB 11/440 (P.C.C. 190 Pyne, will of Ezra Roome).
  • 76. M.L.R. 1718/3/143.
  • 77. Ibid. 1780/4/439.
  • 78. Ibid. 1785/2/292.
  • 79. M.R.O., Acc. 276/22-4.
  • 80. Ibid. Acc. 276/27.
  • 81. M.L.R. 1789/1/269.
  • 82. Pigot, Com. Dir. (1832-4).
  • 83. Ealing, Acton Dir. (1873-4).
  • 84. Rowland, Street Names, 35.
  • 85. Census, 1801, 1831.
  • 86. Pigot, Com. Dir. (1832-4); P.O. Dir. Mdx. (1845); Ealing, Acton Dir. (1873-4).
  • 87. The Times, 31 Mar. 1956; New Survey of Lond. Life and Labour, v (1933), Lond. ind. II. 345-6; Ealing, Acton Dir. (1873-4); Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890); Census, 1901.
  • 88. Census, 1901, 1921.
  • 89. Acton libr., cutting from Evening News, 1957; Acton Chamber of Commerce, Year Bk. (1979-80), 14.
  • 90. Below (Acton Vale).
  • 91. Below (Park Royal).
  • 92. Acton libr., cutting from Evening News, 1957.
  • 93. The Times, 19 Apr. 1956.
  • 94. Ibid. 26 Nov. 1909.
  • 95. Acton Chamber of Commerce, Year Bk. (1979/80).
  • 96. Suburban Dir., Trade (1905).
  • 97. D. H. Smith, Ind. of Gtr. Lond. (1933), 96-7.
  • 98. P. G. Hall, Ind. of Lond. since 1861 (1962), 126.
  • 99. Acton Gaz. 1 Feb. 1901.
  • 100. Acton, Official Guide (1936), 27.
  • 101. Acton libr., cutting from Soldier, Sept. 1972; ibid. photocopy of D. Culshaw and P. Horobin, Complete Cat. of Brit. Cars; Rowland, Street Names, 33.
  • 102. C. H. Wilson and W. J. Reader, Men and Machines (1958), 79-81, 87, 102, 111, 134, 152; Railway Mag. xxxix. 91-7; Acton, Official Guide (1960, 1963).
  • 103. Inf. from the technical dir.
  • 104. Inf. from the pub. relations officer; below.
  • 105. Acton libr., copy of artesian wells map from Water Resources Bd.
  • 106. Acton, Official Guide (1924), 38.
  • 107. M.R.O., Acc. 1047/27.
  • 108. Aviation World Dir. (1911), 131, 273.
  • 109. Acton, Official Guide (1958), 59.
  • 110. Suburban Dir., Trade (1905).
  • 111. Rowland, Street Names, 6.
  • 112. Acton Boro. Rep. of M.O.H. (1926), 22; (1938), 38.
  • 113. Inf. from consumer research manager; Grange Mus., 1 A 2 (Willesden Cit. 12 Aug. 1949, 21 July 1964); Acton, Official Guide (1958), 39; Brent and Ealing L.B.s Park Royal; Goldsmiths' Hall, Acton Estate MS. B. III. 13, no. 31.
  • 114. O.S. Map 6", Mdx. XVI. NW., SW. (1874 edn.).
  • 115. Bacon, Atlas of Lond. (1886); O.S. Map 6", Mdx. XVI. NW. (1894-6 edn.).
  • 116. Grange Mus. Romance of Willesden Dux Oriental; Estates Exchange Yr. Bk. (1932).
  • 117. Acton Aerodrome (Ealing L.B. libr. svce. 1978).
  • 118. Smith, Ind. of Gtr. Lond. 85.
  • 119. Grange Mus., Willesden educ. cttee. Draft Rep. (1919).
  • 120. Acton Aerodrome, addenda, June 1979.
  • 121. Acton U.D.C. Rep. of M.O.H. (1919), 42.
  • 122. Hall, Ind. of Lond. 128; Geog. of Gtr. Lond. ed. R. Clayton (1964), 138.
  • 123. Smith, Ind. of Gtr. Lond. 80.
  • 124. Ibid. 93-6.
  • 125. Hall, Ind. of Lond. 126-8.
  • 126. Brent and Ealing L.B.s Park Royal.
  • 127. Grange Mus., gen. files, Pk. Royal (Willesden and Brent Chron. 15, 22 Apr. 1977).
  • 128. Inf. from communications officer; Grange Mus., 1 A 2 (Willesden Cit. 12 Aug. 1949).
  • 129. Grange Mus., 1 A 2 (Willesden Cit. 25 Mar. 1949); ibid. gen. files, ind. (Willesden Mercury, 16 Sept. 1966).
  • 130. Grange Mus., 1 A 2 (Willesden Cit. 17 Mar. 1950); inf. from the asst. commercial manager; Evening Standard, 4 Sept. 1979.
  • 131. Inf. from the pub. relations manager.
  • 132. Ibid.
  • 133. Inf. from the pub. relations asst.; Grange Mus., 1 A 2 (Willesden Cit. 15 July 1949, 10 Apr. 1964, 22 Jan. 1965).
  • 134. Grange Mus., 1 A 2 (Willesden Cit. 10 Mar. 1950); ibid. gen. files, ind.; Acton, Official Guide (1958), 45.
  • 135. D. Jenkinson and C. Posthumus, Vanwall (1975), 12, 22, 50, 143, 150, 153.
  • 136. Inf. from company sec.; Acton, Official Guide (1958), 35; (1963), 41.
  • 137. W. J. Reader, Metal Box (1976), 52, 68, 153; Brent and Ealing L.B.s Park Royal.
  • 138. Grange Mus., 1 A 2 (Willesden Cit. 30 Sept. 1949); ibid. gen. files, race relations (Profile of Brent, 1976).
  • 139. Grange Mus., gen. files, printers (Kilburn Times, 23 Sept. 1977).
  • 140. Inf. from the personnel officer.