Middlesex Under the Hanoverians

Middlesex Under the Hanoverians


THE history of Middlesex after the accession of George I seems to lose much of its individuality, and this is mainly due to the tremendous development in building which occurred during the eighteenth century in the City of Westminster and in the parishes immediately surrounding the City of London. Stepney, Stoke Newington, Hackney, Marylebone, Islington, Chelsea, Fulham and Kensington were rapidly losing their rural appearance, and even Hampstead and Hornsey were falling a prey to the builders. Consequently the area now comprised in the County of London dominated the situation. The remainder of the County, representing roughly the area now administered by the Middlesex County Council, retired into its rural shell, and its inhabitants profitably devoted their time to the production of provisions to satisfy the ever-enlarging appetite of London.

It was unlikely that local towns should develop when London provided so ready a market and was so accessible for those who wished to purchase what the village store did not stock. Edgware, Staines, Enfield, Edmonton, Brentford, Highgate, Hounslow, Twickenham, Uxbridge and Harrow were the only towns worthy of the name, and these actually consisted of nothing more than a main street where shops and inns were built to provide for the needs of wayfarers on their journey to London.


The agricultural prosperity of Middlesex continued to develop during the eighteenth century, helped by the accessibility of its market-gardens to London.

In this century new methods of agriculture came into fashion and experts deplored the old ” open-field” and “common-land” systems as uneconomic. They advocated instead large-scale enclosure of the common lands, giving to every commoner a piece of ground commensurate with his common rights. This suited the wealthy farmer admirably, as he was often able, by judicious exchanges, to obtain a compact estate instead of scattered strips. To the poorer people enclosure frequently brought hardship. Whereas, when they could keep an animal or two on the common pastures and wastes, they had been able to scrape a livelihood out of their smallholdings, the few feet of land which they received in compensation for their common rights were insufficient to enable them to support themselves.

The normal method of effecting an enclosure was by private Act of Parliament, the earliest for Middlesex being in 1769 for the Manor of St. Katherine, Ruislip. In some districts there was great local opposition to enclosure. In Stanwell, for instance, the inhabitants petitioned successfully to Parliament against the threatened enclosure and postponed the evil day for over twenty years. In 1767 a great number of farmers from the parish came to London to present their petition, and a contemporary account describes their jubilant procession home, with cockades in their hats, bearing the glad news that the Enclosure Bill had been defeated. Not all were so fortunate in their efforts and by 1800 Enclosure Acts affecting eleven Middlesex parishes had been passed. A General Enclosure Act in 1801 made the process of enclosing simpler and less costly for the promoters. This gave an immediate impetus to the movement in Middlesex and by 1825 the common lands of another thirty-one parishes had been enclosed.


The roads were still maintained by “statute labour” under the over-riding supervision of the justices. In winter weather the earth and mud surface would not stand the weight of heavy carts, and carriers and others who overburdened their vehicles or who had too many horses or oxen to draw them were fined by the justices. Droves of cattle coming into the London markets, especially from the eastern counties, helped further to destroy the roads, which were rendered dangerous to travellers by deep ruts and flooded ditches.

The eighteenth century saw the establishment of the” turnpike road “. Under this scheme the main roads were leased out to companies known as Turnpike Trusts, which were responsible for their upkeep and in return charged heavy tolls to cover the cost. Progress was slow at first but by the middle of the century some trunk roads were so much improved that the “flying coach” from Manchester and Liverpool was able to reach London in three days.

Nineteenth-century developments, including the introduction of metalled roads such as we know to-day, and the setting up of the Highway Boards which preceded the County Council as highway authorities, are all described later in this book.

Rates raised in the County must have increased considerably during the century, for greater sums were required for repairing or rebuilding bridges to bear the increased traffic.

The most important bridges were still repaired by the County—or, in the case of those over the Thames, jointly with Surrey—or by the Lord of the Manor, according as custom decreed, and it is not difficult to imagine that they were often much neglected. In June 1739 the state of Brentford Bridge was examined, and it was found that a new one was essential. The old bridge was built obliquely to the road and it was recommended that the new one must be constructed in a straight line with it. While the new bridge was being built under the supervision of Labelye, a Swiss architect who had built Westminster Bridge, a temporary one was constructed. The building of the new bridge was handicapped by weather conditions and by labour troubles but to get over the latter the justices informed the workmen that if they did not work harder they would themselves have to bear the extra charges! The cost amounted to over £4,000, but the architect, who had put in three years’ work, received only a fee of £120 and £20 for his expenses.


Repairs or rebuilding of parish churches were also a burden on the rate-payers, and one such case is found in 1733, when Ealing Church was rebuilt. “The existing edifice” was then of brick and stone “of very great antiquity”, and was so ruinous that the parishioners “durst not assemble there “, whilst the tower had fallen down five years previously. In place of the old church, the parishioners had built a “tabernacle wherein to worship “.


In order to hold office and avoid suspicion of being a Jacobite, it was necessary to obtain a certificate that one had received the Blessed Sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England, and among such certificates are found some interesting names, including those of Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Godfrey Kneller and John Dryden.

Little mention is found of the 1715 Jacobite rising, except that orders were made for the billeting of soldiers and for the prosecution of those who went about singing seditious ballads. The wearing of white roses on the Pretender’s birthday was prohibited.

The victory of the Young Pretender at Prestonpans in 1745 and his subsequent march on London, caused much excitement in the County. During this period of alarm the militia was embodied and other voluntary forces were raised in the County. London was in a panic and there was a run on the Bank of England; all business was suspended and shops were shut. The alarm was fortunately short-lived, for in April 1746 the army of George II successfully shattered the Pretender’s hopes at Culloden Moor.

The Gordon Riots in 1780, while chiefly affecting London, had repercussions on the more rural parts of the County and troops were encamped at Finchley.


Another event which disturbed the tranquillity of the inhabitants was the series of earthquakes which occurred in the early part of 1750. The first shock occurred in January, and in exactly a month to a day, a second and more severe one followed. Even the most unsuperstitious became alarmed, and it only needed the publication of a pamphlet by a trooper in the Guards, predicting a far worse shock a month later, for the inhabitants of London to indulge in a panic which has fortunately never been equalled or surpassed. All roads out of London were thronged with every kind of conveyance, many filled with fashionable people. The more rural districts of Middlesex must have reaped a profitable harvest, for fabulous sums were paid for beds and shelter outside what was considered to be the danger zone. The less wealthy made for the open spaces. Nothing occurred, and the citizens somewhat shamefacedly returned to London the following morning.

Nevertheless, the trooper was not an entirely false prophet, for in the following April a third shock did occur but with no serious result. The Bishop of London was not slow to take this opportunity of pointing out that these shocks were visitations of the Almighty as a warning of what might happen if Londoners did not mend their ways, and the justices ordered that copies of this sermon should be bought and of to every parish.


During the Napoleonic wars, the number of militiamen, which had been scarcely 300 in 1802, was raised to over 2,000 in 1808 and to 12,000 in 1812. Several “Loyal Associations” were also formed in the County and the Hadley and South Minims Volunteers were among the forces reviewed in Hyde Park by George III in 1799. Cavalry corps were raised at Uxbridge, Twickenham, Edmonton, Ealing and Brentford and infantry regiments in many parts of the County. The navy was recruited largely from men impressed for service by press gangs and large rewards were offered to informers who could supply particulars of able-bodied men suitable for” pressing “. Service with the navy was occasionally substituted for imprisonment, as a punishment.


Tremendous activity was exercised by the justices in stopping unlawful gaming not only in the taverns but even in the houses of the nobility; and also in the suppression of theatres and music-halls. Actors and actresses were dealt with as “rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars “, and were consequently subject to the punishment of being “stript naked from the middle up and beaten on their backs till they were bloody “. The haunts of vice which are enumerated in the records lay outside the present area of the County, and were mainly to be found in Clerkenwell, Mayfair and Chelsea.

The drinking of gin had greatly increased during the middle of the eighteenth century and the justices took every step in their power to suppress it, apparently without much success. To such an extent had the habit developed that shopkeepers would give their clients “a dram of gin” to encourage them to become reckless in their purchases.

Bull-baiting at Edmonton in 1746 resulted in the injury of many of the spectators, and the justices issued their orders that constables were to suppress this form of entertainment throughout the County.


Outbreaks of cattle disease (the same as, or forerunner of, foot-and-mouth disease) were first reported in the County about the middle of the eighteenth century, and in 1747 overseers were appointed to inspect ” distempered cattle” and to see that regulations were enforced to prevent the disease from spreading.


Before the mid-nineteenth century there was little or no organized care of public health. Official control over sanitary conditions was limited to punishing persons who committed offences likely to be injurious to the well-being of the community. For example, the justices frequently fined those who left their ditches unscoured, who overcrowded their houses with lodgers, or who maintained a “noisome dungheap” before their doors. These rather haphazard methods became increasingly inadequate with the growth of population, particularly in those parts of old Middlesex which lay nearest to the City of London. Lack of systematic street cleaning, pollution of water supplies, bad siting of burial-grounds, bad sanitation in houses, all contributed to the spread of the serious epidemics of cholera in the eighteen thirties and forties, which caused considerable alarm and led eventually, in 1848, to the setting up of Local Health Boards under the supervision of a General Board of Health. The local boards were made responsible for the efficient organization of sewerage, drainage, water supply, burial-grounds and the sanitary conditions of streets and houses generally, and had power to appoint local medical officers of health. This measure marked the beginning of a slow but steady improvement.


Middlesex has been well served by waterways, the river Thames forming a great highway along its southern border. The river Lee (or Lea) on the east is also navigable and was canalized about 1770. As early as 1766 plans were made for a canal from Uxbridge to Marylebone, but this project does not seem to have been carried out. The Grand Junction Canal, constructed at the end of the eighteenth century and opened in 1805, enters Middlesex at Uxbridge, follows a course through Cowley, West Drayton and Southall, and joins the Thames at Brentford. This canal, providing a link between London and Birmingham and the Midlands, was of great economic importance to those parts of Middlesex through which it passed, bringing to them a certain industrial prosperity. A supplementary cutting was made in 1801 leading out of the Grand Junction Canal at Bull’s Bridge north of Cranford and passing through Northolt, Greenford, Alperton and Kensal Green to Paddington. In 1820 this was further extended, as the Regent’s Canal, to Limehouse.


The development of the railways was perhaps the greatest physical achievement of the nineteenth century. As early as 182o a railway was projected from London, through Islington and Hackney in old Middlesex to Wallasea Island in Essex. The London and Birmingham Railway and the Great Western Railway, the first main lines to affect the present area of Middlesex, were developed between 1833 and 1838. The Northern and Eastern (later Great Eastern), the London and York (later Great Northern), the Midland, the London and North-Western and the London and South-Western Railways, as well as some branch lines, were all operating by the middle of the century. By this date, horse omnibuses and tramways were being introduced and the first steam cable tram in Europe operated on Highgate Hill in 1884. By 1889, the close of the nineteenth century, the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways had been opened.

The new modes of transport were not popular. Farmers and agriculturalists in Middlesex and other home counties, having for generations enjoyed a virtual monopoly of the London markets, feared competition with produce from other parts of the British Isles, particularly Ireland. Landowners resented the track-ways which cut across their parks and destroyed the privacy of their country homes. This probably accounts for the break-up of many large estates which, from the mid-century onwards, were sold for building development. The population of Middlesex began to show a marked increase in many districts after about 1860, though the area which became the administrative county of Middlesex in 1889 was still very largely rural, the most populous districts being Tottenham, Willesden, Ealing and Edmonton.


Middlesex (excluding the City of Westminster) returned two members to Parliament. Elections were frequently turbulent and the voteless mob, often bribed by the candidates, tried to ensure the election of their favourites by threats of violence to the voters. Brentford was the polling-place for Middlesex at this time and was the scene of quite unparalleled disorder and rioting during elections held there in 1768. One of the candidates was that notorious demagogue John Wilkes. His right to represent the County was disputed, as he had already been imprisoned and expelled from the House of Commons (as member for Aylesbury) for seditious libel and had been outlawed for duelling. As a member of parliament his imprisonment was unconstitutional, and on this account he was regarded by the populace as a victim of tyranny. He was elected member for Middlesex in 1768 by a substantial majority, but the Commons refused to allow him to take his seat and declared the defeated rival, Colonel Luttrell, to be the elected member. In 1774 Wilkes was again elected as member for Middlesex and this time established his right to sit for the County. After the Reform Act of 1832 the County of Middlesex continued to return two members, but in addition populous districts in the metropolitan area were enfranchised. At the first election after the Reform Act there were barely 7,000 registered voters out of a population of nearly 300,000 (excluding the enfranchised metropolitan areas and Westminster). Additional polling places were set up at East Bedfont, Uxbridge, Edgware, Enfield, Hammersmith, King’s Cross and Mile End. The representation was slightly increased for the urban areas in 1867, and in 1885 there were further major changes. Sixteen new boroughs were constituted in the metropolitan area, and the rest of the County was divided into seven electoral divisions—Enfield, Tottenham, Hornsey, Harrow, Ealing, Brentford and Uxbridge—each returning one member; these seven divisions, of course, are part of Middlesex to-day.