by Colin Woodward, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 12, 2003
Until changes were made to the way local communities were governed in the 19th century, the body mainly responsible for administering local affairs was the parish. The parish vestry appointed officials like the parish constable, looked after the roads, the poor and the sick and collected tithes and rates. It was thus very important to be able to define the boundaries of each parish precisely to ensure that no unrated buildings encroached upon its territory and that the parish was not carrying any liabilities that properly belonged to another parish.
It was essential too in the days before maps, and at a time when many people could not read or write, to ensure that local residents knew the boundaries of their own parish, and passed this information on to the next generation. This indoctrination was carried out in a ceremony called Perambulation of the Bounds. It usually took place each Rogationtide (the three days before Ascension Day) when the vicar, prominent parishioners and schoolchildren traversed the parish to inspect the condition of the boundary markers and make sure they hadn’t been disturbed. Participants were equipped with wands of stripped willow to ‘beat the bounds’.
Determined, and sometimes rather fierce, attempts were made to imprint the position of the markers in the minds of the young. At the relevant point boys were sometimes bumped about, struck with the wands, thrown into ponds, up-ended over boundary markers, fored to climb the roofs of houses that straddled the boundary line, and exposed to other indignities. The ceremony of perambulating the bounds continued well into the 20th century in some places, long after boundaries were clearly shown on Ordnance Survey maps and parishes no longer carried out significant local government functions.
Boundary markers were many and various – rivers, streams, ponds, roads, hedgerows, even individual trees, and later railway lines and canals. The River Thames, the Roman road, River Brent, Bollo Brook and Stamford Brook were all boundaries in Chiswick and Brentford. There were also the man-made boundary markers, which were usually stones, often inscribed, and these are the subject of this article. There used to be many stones marking the boundaries of Hammersmith with Chiswick, Chiswick with Acton, Chiswick with Old Brentford, Old Brentford with New Brentford Township and New Brentford with Isleworth and Hanwell (boundary stones are shown as ‘BS’ or ‘stone’ on old OS maps).
However, now that they have lost their function they are no longer regarded as interesting or important, with the result that many have not been able to withstand the ravages of road mending/widening or new building development. They have been carted away, used as hardcore, buried in undergrowth or perhaps incorporated into rockeries. The stones in Brentford and Chiswick are disappearing at an alarming rate. For example, the Chiswick and Hammersmith boundary stones at the bottom of Stamford Brook Avenue, illustrated on page 16 of Gillian Clegg’s book Chiswick Past have both gone since the photograph was taken in 1995 and no stones between Old Brentford and Chiswick seem to have survived.
Boundary stones, though, deserve to be preserved as historic reminders of a time when the parish looked after civil as well as spiritual needs and the Planning Officer’s Conservation Team of the London Borough of Hounslow is considering recommending a local listing for those that remain, and also requesting the DCMS’s listing branch to consider conferring Listed Building status to interesting examples. To this end the Conservation Team conducted a survey between August 2001 and July 2002 of surviving stones in the Borough of Hounslow. We print below details of the stones that remain in Brentford and Chiswick.
1 Hammersmith/Chiswick boundary
1A Two stones outside Cedar House, Chiswick Mall. The eastern stone is engraved ‘H’MTH 1931’. The western stone is unmarked.
1B Goldhawk Road side of 2 Chiswick High Road, adjacent to HSBC bank. This stone reads ‘HB 9ft EAST 1931’
1D Outside 28 Stamford Brook Avenue. Worn and flaking. It reads’HB 1931′.
1E Against front wall of 25 Stamford Brook Road (Stamford Brook Villa). This stone is in poor condition but probably reads’HB 1931′.
1F Outside 27 Stamford Brook Road (The Brook) on the west facing boundary. Worn. Engraved ‘HB, 1931’.
1G At the junction of Bath Road/Stamford Brook Road; only the top part of the stone is visible. It is engraved ‘HP’ on the south and west facing edges.
1H Against the front wall of 65 Emlyn Road, engraved ‘CH’ with a vertical line between the C (for Chiswick) and H (for Hammersmith). The letters are followed by a date, now illegible.
1J East side of British Grove junction with King Street/Chiswick High Road, area know as Young’s Corner, horizontal stone set into pavement outside Volkswagen garage. Lettering reads ‘ ?? 1898’
2 Acton/Chiswick boundary
2A This stone is in the front garden of 66 Woodstock Road, against the south boundary fence. It is inscribed ‘AP’ and below is ’89’ (presumably 1889).
2B Junction of Acton Lane and Chiswick Road. It is either uninscribed or the inscription has worn off. It looks a bit like a bollard but older maps confirm that there was a boundary stone here.
3 Acton/Old Brentford boundary
3A Two stones outside 50 Bollo Lane. They are either uninscribed or the inscription has worn off.
3B Gunnersbury Triangle. The nature trail leaflet produced by the London Wildlife Trust shows boundary stones at vantage point no 10. There are two stones back to back. The western stone (3Bi) is engraved ‘Acton Parish 1865’ and the eastern stone (3Bii) is engraved ‘Old Brentford Parish 1897’. The Acton stone is noticeably larger. These stones are difficult to see because of dense vegetation and the dates are obscured below ground level.
3C Outside 65 Thorney Hedge Road, Chiswick. It is inscribed ‘AP’ with the date ‘1907’ below.
4 Ealing/Old Brentford boundary
4A Baling and Old Brentford cemetery. It is about 50ft west of the borough boundary at 298 Lionel Road and is inscribed ‘Old Brentford Parish 1895’. The stone is however almost obliterated by a holly bush.
4B West side of Junction Road outside No 1. Horizontal granite stone in pavement. Not very legible but probably reads ‘Old Brentford Parish 1904. Baling Parish 1904’.
4C East side of Junction Road outside No 2. Horizontal granite stone in pavement. Partially illegible but probably reads ‘Baling Parish 1904. Old Brentford Parish 1904’.
5 Old Brentford/New Brentford boundary
5A On canal towpath close to Thames Locks. It is engraved ‘Old Brentford Parish 1897’.
5B Embedded in the wall of Boston Manor House on the west side of Boston Manor Road, a few yards south of the entrance to the house. It is a joint stone marked ‘OBP/NBT’ with the date ‘1860’ crudely altered on the OBP side t o’1897′.
5C Embedded in the wall of Boston Manor House opposite 185 Boston Manor Road. This is a joint stone inscribed ‘OBP/NBT’ with the date ‘ 1860’ across both parts and the date ‘ 1897’ in smaller letters on the OBP half.
5D In Boston Manor Park, north of the converted stable building, beneath trees. One side of the stone is engraved ‘Old Brentford Parish’.
These stones were recorded in the survey, with additional information from Shirley Seaton, Diana Willment and David Rear. Other stones may well survive either on private property or buried beneath vegetation on wasteland. The Planning Conservation Team at LB Hounslow would like to hear about any stones missed in this survey so that they can be photographed and recorded. Contact the Chiswick Area Planning Team on 020 8583 4996 or write to Conservation Team, Borough Planning Office, The Civic Centre, Lampton Road, Hounslow, Middlesex TW3 4DN, for the attention of Mark Price.
Colin Woodward is a Principal Planning Officer in the Borough Planning Officer’s Chiswick Area Planning Development Control Team, and has worked as a planning officer for LB Hounslow since 1975. The photographs and illustrations are by Colin Woodward.