Chiswick High Road 150 Years Ago

by Peter Hammond

Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 8 (1999)

Looking at postcards of Chiswick High Road dating from around 1900 it is obvious that the High Road has not changed all that much in the last 100 years or so – that is many of the buildings can either still be seen or can be discerned under recent changes. The structure of the High Road is still basically the same. However if we go back further the few pictures and maps that exist show that the whole road has changed quite out of recognition.

The earliest known photograph of Chiswick High Road, taken in 1863. LB Hounslow Local Studies, Chiswick Library.

As part of a study of the Turnham Green area (ie, the northern part of what we now call Chiswick) it was decided to look at the High Road 150 years ago, in 1851, and see how it compared with the one we see now. This date was chosen because it was the year of a Census of which the Library has a copy, and we are also lucky that the Tithe Map of this area dates from 1847, thus giving us a map to go with the Census. Tithes were a property tax payable to the church. The map was drawn up in accordance with the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836.

The first thing that becomes obvious when looking at the map is that in the middle of the last century Tumham Green was still a village. It was separated by fields and market gardens from Hammersmith at one end and from Brentford at the other and indeed from Chiswick itself on the south. Travelling along the High Road must have been rather like going through one of those extended villages one still finds nowadays, with the road lined mainly with houses separated by occasional shops. Indeed Turnham Green consisted mainly of the High Road, since development both north and south was still minimal.

In the Census the High Road is not in fact called this, with the exception of four unnumbered houses just to the west of Bond Street. Parts of the road were called Brentford Road, as the whole road is named on old maps. The rest of the road consisted of cottages, such as Woodbine Cottage, of groups of cottages, or terraces, many named after the developer or owner of each group, Moon’s Place and Ball’s Row for example, or Devonshire Place after a prominent local landowner. One such group which still exists is Williams Terrace, built a few years before the Census at the Hammersmith end of the High Road. There was no consecutive house numbering until much later.

Some of the single houses were very large, mansions in fact, built here partly because for many years Turnham Green had a reputation as a healthy place to live and wealthy men wanted houses in this green and pleasant area. It was also conveniently situated at a reasonable travelling distance from London for a country residence and this position made it also a good place to change and water horses. This gave rise to the development of many public houses to serve the needs of travellers.

Both travellers and residents needed staff and supplies, so shops and smaller houses grew to supply this need. Many of the public houses are still with us, the Roebuck, (now the Rat and Parrot), the Pack Horse and Talbot, the George IV, the Windmill, (now Jack Stamp’s Beer House), the Crown and Anchor and the Old Packhorse, although most of them have been rebuilt or refronted since then. As may be seen from the illustration above the Crown and Anchor (perhaps alone) has not changed a great deal.

Between the Hammersmith border and the approaches to Kew Bridge there were then no less than 14 large houses along the main road, with others such as Chestnuts and Arlington House around Turnham Green. Only one of these great houses is still there, Falkland House, now known as Afton House, in Bourne Place, but then fronting onto the High Road. The position of others such as Annandale House and Linden House can be seen from roads named after them. Some of these houses, particularly the smaller ones, were still in private occupation in 1851, with a family plus anything up to half a dozen live-in servants; cook, housemaids, nurse and so on. Other large houses had been turned into schools, some quite small, the numbers of pupils resident in the others ranged from 11 to 31, (they may have had day pupils of course who were not there when the census was taken, nominally at midnight). The ages usually ranged quite widely, from 6 to 13 years for example, which must have made teaching quite difficult. Most were boys’ schools but there were three for girls.

Turnham Green Residents
What of the people who lived in the houses, what sort of people were they, where did they come from and what did they do? It appears from the Census that most houses were occupied by private individuals and were not, as now, mostly shops. Assuming that if the occupation of the head of the household is given as grocer, greengrocer, butcher and so on, then that place is a shop, there were less than 50 shops in the road out of just over 300 households. Two were actually listed as ‘China Shop’ and ‘Grocer’s Shop’.

For food supplies, between the Hammersmith border and the Old Pack Horse, there were five grocers, two greengrocers, three butchers, three bakers and two fishmongers – there was no shortage of choice. There were also shops for less essential needs, two jewellers, two hairdressers, a draper (later Rankins) and a florist for example. For those who know the High Road now it may be noted that there were no restaurants, apart from the pubs, and no estate agents. Near the Roebuck was Turnham Green’s own Cigar Divan for tobacco and smoking accessories.

Most of the shops were on the north side of the High Road with a group between the Windmill pub and Fishers Lane, although others were scattered along the entire length of the road. The social mix of the inhabitants was very wide and they were not rigidly segregated into areas. For example on the north side of the High Road, about opposite the Barley Mow, was a washerwoman and her daughter, a dressmaker, next to them was a practising surgeon, and next to him a retired ironmonger. There were also areas where the houses were (apparently) very crowded and lived in by labourers and servants, for example the very short Bond Street, leading from the High Road had 18 houses lived in by 99 people.

In other areas the inhabitants were all reasonably well off with resident servants. Their occupations were very varied, as would be expected, with one or two in such up and coming jobs as ‘omnibus conductor’ or railway worker. Many of the inhabitants of the High Road, as well as Turnham Green generally, had not been born in the area – the mid 19th century was generally a time of increasing mobility – but the majority of residents came from elsewhere in Middlesex or from very nearby. It also appears that many of the better-off people in particular had moved from more built up parts of London into the ‘country’. Most of the children however had been born in Turnham Green wherever their parents had come from.

Turnham Green was thus a thriving village in the middle of the last century and probably a very pleasant place to live, surrounded by fields as it still was. However the future had already arrived in 1849 in the shape of the London and South Western Railway’s line with stations at Chiswick and Kew Bridge and the Census reveals a very large number of children under 14. Turnham Green had a growing population and was well on its way to becoming the crowded suburb of London it is today.

Peter Hammond is the editor of The Complete Peerage and co-author of Chiswick and Brentford in the Old Photographs Series published by Chalford Press in 1994 and 1996 respectively.

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