Histories of Harrow Weald Highways - Volume 10
Ronald S Brown, 1981.
pages 7, 8 and 9.
In pre-Saxon times, when the Great Weald or Wold spread across the northern extremity of Middlesex, dense woodland covered Harrow Weald which was then probably uninhabited. From about the 6th century Saxon farmers began the felling of trees to create suitable conditions for their agricultural pursuits and by the time the Normans initiated the Domesday Survey of 1086, within the boundaries of the Manor of Herges (Harrow) were included the hamlets of Pinner, Roxeth, Preston, Kenton, Wembley - and Weald (Harrow Weald). The known history of Harrow Weald therefore extends back for nearly 900 years.
In 1180 the Chronicler, Fitzstephen, describes the Weald as still beautified by woods and groves, concealing the lairs of wild game, stags, boars and bulls. For many centuries such animals were to provide good hunting opportunities for numerous Lords of the Manor.
In the mid-15th century, Harrow Weald was known as the 'Welde' (from the Latin word 'Walda' meaning a woodland height) but it bore no resemblance to the present suburb. The church on Harrow Hill was still a dominant feature but domestic habitations were limited to a few groups of thatched cottages and the only 'highways' were narrow, ill-kept tracks bordered by wide grass verges. The fields were large expanses of land without hedgerows and extensive woodland, where oaks dominated the scene, echoed noisily to the snorts of swine searching for acorns. 'Pannage' as it was called, was chargeable at the rate of one penny per pig, enabling the Lord of the Manor to enjoy an income from this source of 35/- per annum. A special keeper was employed to supervise 'Weldewood' to ensure that pig-owners did not attempt to evade the payment of Pannage money.
Unauthorised tree-felling was regarded as a heinous offence for, in addition to the Archbishop reserving large quantities of timber for building purposes, an important industry in Harrow Weald was charcoal burning and the section of Uxbridge Road which runs through Harrow Weald was known as 'Coliers Lane' - the lane for colliers or charcoal burners.
The theft of deer from private parks or of cattle from meadows could result in the guilty person being sentenced to flaying and "skinned like a live eel" - according to the description of a contemporary writer.
Although Harrow Weald was by then second only to Pinner in importance, the population remained remarkably insignificant: this contention may be judged by the fact that there were only four Tithingmen allocated to the hamlet* indicating that there was a population of about 160 souls, plus the various members of the staff employed by the Lord of the Manor.
(*There was one Tithingman per 10 families - say a total of about forty adults and children.)
In modern times Harrow Weald has been somewhat overshadowed by the more famous neighbouring villages of Harrow on the Hill, Pinner, Stanmore and Edgware but from a period in the first half of the 13th century the Weald was the location for an early religious house - the Priory at Bentley* probably founded by the Archbishop of Canterbury and subject to the jurisdiction of the Priory of St Gregory - also of Canterbury.
(* 'Bentley' is an Anglo-Saxon word denoting "a place on a hill (leah) covered with coarse gross (Beonet)". The Priory is thought to have been built on the side of the hill below the present house, but the exact location is not known. )
During the next three centuries the Priory undoubtedly exerted an important monastic influence in the area but this diminished as Priors failed to make regular visits to the Weald. Their main concern was in deriving a suitable monetary return from the land and ensuring that the Archbishop's demand for an annual rent of 5/2½d (26p) was satisfied. When the priest who was appointed to say the weekly mass also began to neglect his duties, the Priory gradually fell into disuse and decay.
The Dissolution changed the role of the Priory when it was seized by royal commissioners under the Act of Suppression and assigned to Archbishop Cranmer in 1543 - who then made an exchange with Henry VIII for land in Wimbledon. This signalled an end to Bentley Priory's ecclesiastical status and it became the property of a succession of private citizens. In the lost quarter of the 18th century the land was bought by a wealthy contractor, James Duberly, who demolished the Priory and built the existing house. A brief resume of Bentley Priory's more recent history can be found on page 8 of Volume 5.
Referring back to paragraph 4 on the previous page, Archbishops were not the only high ranking individuals to utilise Harrow Weald's woods; Henry VIII also made requisitions from the same source to provide roofing material for his chapel at Westminster.
The continuous demand for timber gradually reduced the areas of woodland on the Weald and trees were further decimated on the Common when pits were dug to extract gravel for road-making. When these activities eventually ceased the open common once again reverted to woodland - providing excellent facilities for modern horse-riding schools nearby.
We have mentioned charcoal-burning and gravel-digging as two of the occupations practised locally but there was another very important industry - brick and tile-making. The works were developed by the Bodimeade family in the 17th century and located on a corner site where Old Redding meets Common Road. Charles Blackwell took over the business at the end of the 18th century when he married Mary Ann Bodimeade - to the annoyance of later members of the Bodimeade family.
The Blackwells were to become the wealthiest family in Harrow Weald and by the turn of the last century, owned several large properties, locally. In 1829 one of the Blackwells began a partnership with Edmund Crosse, forming the wellknown company of Crosse and Blackwell. (Note: further information about (1) the brickworks, is contained on page 4 of Volume 3 and (2) the Blackwell family on page 34 of Volume 2, page 14 of volume 3 and page 15 of this volume. The Blackwells were by no means the only family to appreciate the seclusion and beauty of Harrow Weald: in the Middle Ages the Downers were well established at Harrow Weald and Hatch End and later there were the Hills, Sims and Hughes - to mention but a few.
There were several perfect examples of the 'estate system' operating in Harrow Weald where a wealthy merchant or industrialist bought a large acreage, built or re-modelled a grand adjacent property and then rented out the land to one or more farmers. With the advancing decades these minor Lords of the Manor were frequently known as the 'Squires'.
As it had been for generations post, farming continued to provide most of the employment for the natives of Harrow Weald. In the immediate vicinity there were some dozen farms with a greater number scattered around the countryside within a few miles. But the gradual improvement in farming techniques (which reduced the number of labourers required) allied to a steadily growing population, meant that with the onset of the 20th century, labourers found it necessary to seek employment other than on the land. In the year of Queen Victoria's demise (1901) the census revealed that Harrow Weald's population had passed the 1,300 mark and ten years later this figure had almost doubled - due to the overflow of people working in industrial Wealdstone.
In the 1980's only four operational farms remain in or near Harrow Weald and they are Grimsdyke, Copse, Priory and Kenton Lane Farms. The unique building of Harrow Weald House Farm has survived but functions for purely residential purposes.
The reader will adduce from information in the following pages the effect that suburbanisation hod on the farmlands of Harrow Weald but, thanks to the far-seeing ideals of a Mr E.B.Montesole (a member of Hendon Urban District Council in the 1920's), the 'steam roller' advance of domestic house-building sustained by an army of developers was halted by a 'green belt' of country which extends across the northern boundary of what is now the London Borough of Harrow from Pinner Hill, through Harrow Weald to Stanmore. This secure barrier, which is substantially immune from suburban development, was made possible by the U.D.C's extensive acquisitions of unspoiled country which included Headstone Manor (in 1925) and Pinner Park (in 1930). By 1938 the Harrow local Authority had reserved 962 acres of land for the green belt and over one seventh (2,000 acres) of the total area of Harrow is now devoted to the provision of open spaces.
We have previously referred to some of the several names by which Harrow Weald has been known in post eras but there have been various other 'nom de plumes'. The word 'Weald' has been applied to numerous local features including Weald Coppice (the Copse Farm area); Weald Common; Wealdwood; Weald Green and the 'Lower End of Weald', the latter description being in common usage in the 18th century. This referred to the main area of common fields extending from below the higher ground leading to the Common, across what is now Wealdstone, to the village of Greenhill, (separated by the River Lidding (Wealdstone Brook)).
Maps of the last century show that the habitations around the old 'Red Lion' were known as the village of Weald Stone - borne out by the proximity of the old weald stone (embedded in paving outside the modern Red Lion)and the fact that a large property once located along Weald Lane was called 'Wealdstone House'.