Chiswick New Town: The Early Years

By Peter Hammond

Brentford and Chiswick Local History Journal 9 (2000)

Those of you who read issue number 6 (1997) of the Brentford and Chiswick Local History Journal will remember the interesting article on Chiswick New Town by William Roe. This piece inspired the present author to fill out the New Town story by researching the first 25 years of its history.

A map of Chiswick New Town as it was in the middle of the 19th century, surrounded by fields. This map is redrawn from the Tithe Map of 1847.

A map of Chiswick in the Local Studies collection with the title Plan of Estates at Chiswick for Sale and dated 1821 shows a plot of land marked Lot 12. On this plot was built the Chiswick New Town. It appears from the Churchwardens’ Rate Books that preparation for building began quickly. In 1822 immediately after the name of a Sarah Wilmott, who was paying rates on land in Chiswick Field (perhaps from its value this could have been the Glebe lands, now the Glebe estate) appears a new name, that of one ‘Bennett’, rated for a house and land. In the following year he appears as ‘W Bennett’ rated for the same. By 1824 his name has vanished but there appear in the rate book many entries under different names for houses in Devonshire Street, Providence Row, Furze Street, William Street and Bennett Street.

These streets are all in the New Town, Providence Row is probably the street later known as Devonshire Place, William Street and Bennett Street must be named for ‘W Bennett’, who was therefore presumably one of the original purchasers of Lot 12. He may have been the only one. Mr Bennett does not appear in the rate books before 1822 nor after, nor in any other Chiswick records so far as can be seen. He thus appears to be some kind of entrepreneur, buying the land and probably building the first few houses, selling up and moving on elsewhere. The appearance of street names in the rate book for 1824 is unique, street names do not appear in the rate books again until 1838. The rate collector probably wanted to remind himself and the Vestry of the existence of this new phenomenon.

The Houses

Houses in Chiswick New Town

There are only 52 houses rated in the New Town in 1824. Many more names of tenants and owners appear in the next and subsequent years. The estate grew slowly, probably by fits and starts, over many years. It only reached its full size by about 1880 when Hunt Street was built by the brothers Hunt across the site of Mr Cawthery’s land, marked on the map above. Many gaps in the house pattern can still be seen on this map, which is taken from the Tithe Map of 1847. James Street and Wood Street do not appear at all in 1824 but James Street at least was being built since Edward Arnold, a baker, appears in the 1826/27 Pigot & Co Directory of Middlesex as being of James Street. In 1825 (and indeed after this) many houses are marked as empty in the rate books so were probably new houses.

One interesting point about the 1824 entries is that some houses, those in Providence Row and Devonshire Street, are listed as ‘double houses’, and the other streets are listed as ‘single houses’. The footprint of the ‘double houses’ has a backwards extension so this may be what is meant. However, the number of people living in these houses as shown by the Censuses appears to be much the same in both types of house. Rateable values are no help since the single houses are not given a value. Some idea of the explosive growth of the estate in its first seven years can be seen from the fact that 225 houses were built in the parish of Chiswick between 1821 and 1831, probably most of them in the New Town from 1823 onwards.

The sizes of the houses on the estate were not uniform. Most of them were terraced certainly and very small. This is confirmed by a description of one in James Street in the early 1900s.This was an end of terrace house and had (by this century at least) casement windows, as apparently had all the houses in this street. Downstairs there was a living room (presumably leading directly off the street) and a scullery in which was a concrete boiler. The stairs led from the sitting room to one large bedroom, divided in use by a curtain. The toilet was at the end of the garden, perhaps a legacy of when there was no mains drainage.

There were larger houses on the estate however as may be seen from the map, particularly in Hogarth Place (originally Devonshire Terrace) where for example Dorset Cottage was rated at £18 in 1830, three times the value of the smaller houses on the estate. The New Town, in the earlier years at least, was far from being a packed community of very poor people. There were several larger houses in Hogarth Place, some in Bennett Street and also in that part of Devonshire Road belonging to the New Town. There were quite a few shops too, some from very early in the life of the estate, Edward Arnold mentioned above, for example, and Charles Latter in Furze Street and Charles Florey in Bennett Street, both grocers and both also in the 1826/27 Pigot Directory.  Similar shops occur in 1851 by then Charles Florey was living in number 3 Florey Cottages, in Bennett Street, as a house property owner. It was thus still at that stage a place for moderately prosperous people to live.

The Inhabitants
There were though many poorer people living in the New Town in the early years. We do not know the actual numbers of the population in Chiswick New Town before the 1841 census when 938 people lived in 202 inhabited houses. By 1851 this had increased to 1114 people in 238 houses. These sound very high numbers, as indeed they are, (representing 16.1% and 17.7% of the population of Chiswick and nearly 20% and 21 % of the housing stock respectively), but they do not show great overcrowding since they represent an average of under five residents to a house. This can be compared with somewhat over five residents to a house in Chiswick as a whole.

By comparison in 1881 when the New Town had reached its greatest extent with the building of Hunt Street there were approximately six residents to a house, the same as Chiswick as a whole. Averages taken like this are rather a crude measure but they do show that the New Town was not more crowded as a whole than the rest of the parish. Some roads were more crowded than others, of course, and the 1881 figure conceals 9.2 people per house in Hunt Street for example. Public perception, as shown by letters to the press, was that the New Town was a vastly overcrowded, and probably dangerous, area. The censuses suggest this was not the case, but it may be that the size of the estate, as a large group of houses in the midst of fields which contained nearly a fifth of the population of the parish, made it frightening by its mere presence. Why such a large new estate was built at that time we do not yet know, except that it was obviously needed to house the ever increasing numbers of immigrants coming to London and parishes near London to seek work.

Who were the residents of this village within a village then? We have no idea about the first inhabitants since the original 1831 census returns do not survive. We get our first glimpse of the inhabitants of the New Town in 1841 with the census returns of that year. They were a mixed group. In both 1841 and 1851 there were small shopkeepers and there were a sprinkling of ‘independents’, i.e. technically people who lived on their own means. There were very few paupers but there were a lot of tradesmen following skilled or semi-skilled trades, such as painters, tailors, bricklayers, plumbers and shoemakers, mostly (but not all) journeymen, that is working for others. There were also several policemen, who might tend to make a road respectable by their presence.There were many agricultural labourers, gardeners and garden women, (nearly 17% in 1841 and just under 10% in 1851), but given the nature of the area this is not surprising.

What is particularly interesting is the presence of a small minority of Irishmen and women, 43 or 4.6% in 1841. These were congregated in Wood Street and were nearly all (31 of them) gardeners, agricultural labourers or garden women. There were four servants, one bricklayer, one ordinary labourer and one shoemaker, the rest were wives at home, one child born in Ireland, and many children born in this country. The total number of Irish had risen in 1851 to 126, that is 11.3% of those living in the New Town. Interestingly most of those for whom a birthplace (other than just Ireland) was given came from the west of the country, Tipperary, Cork and Limerick. This is similar to Farrell’s findings for the Irish immigrants to Hammersmith in 1851. The occupations were varied as before, with 43 agricultural labourers, garden women or gardeners, but including two ‘market gardeners’ which implies a higher level of prosperity than a labourer. There were many children, including two of five and seven months old respectively, born in Ireland, (i e, very recent immigrants). They lived mostly in Bennett Street with some in other streets, but curiously none in Wood Street where they were mostly living in 1841. There were other Irish people in the rest of Chiswick, mostly concentrated in particular areas, although nothing like as many as were in the whole of Hammersmith.

It thus appears that in at least the first few years of its life, whatever happened later, Chiswick New Town was not exclusively a place where the inhabitants were all poor. It was much the same mix as the rest of Chiswick, where poor and richer people lived close together, next door sometimes. Where it was unique was that it was the first and only part of the parish to be built almost entirely on its own in a ‘green field site’. It filled a need in its time.

Sources used: The 1841 and 1851 censuses of Chiswick; the Rate Books, 1821-1851; The Irish in Hammersmith and Fulham in 1851, by Jerome Farrell, The Local Historian, pp.66-75, volume 29, no. 2, 1999. The description of the house in James Street comes from Cherry Blossom, by Sylvia Montague, 1999.

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

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