Harrow Highways - Volume 4
R S Brown, 1976,

pages 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9

Introduction

Among the very earliest remarks in our series about Harrow Highway Histories was a reference to Wealdstone in the Foreword of Volume I.  In that publication there were also narratives about Byron Road and Church Lane, and in Volume II the histories of Locket Road and Warham Road were included.  Those four narratives served as a prelude to this new volume which explores in greater depth numerous other highways in Wealdstone, revealing many interesting facets and anecdotes of this Victorian township.

Before we embark upon this exploration, space will not be wasted if we first consider the conditions which existed from about the middle of the 19th century when Wealdstone was in the embryo stage and Victorian England was emerging as the major industrial power in the world.

Discipline

Victoria and her Prince Consort insisted that their subjects should strive to achieve the highest moral standards and parents expected strict obedience from their children; the political system was deeply permeated with the authoritarian idea.  Democracy was regarded by the ruling classes as a dirty word and members of the male sex were entirely dominant in all spheres of life, particularly at the domestic level (totally opposite to the modern attitude of sex equality).

The Baptist preacher, Spurgeon, once said, 'The husband has many objects in life which the wife does not understand; but she believes in them all and anything she can do to promote them, she delights to perform'.  Even as late as the 1880's it was asserted that, 'The average woman cannot be considered as a free agent at any period in her life in the sense that a man is a free agent'.

Despite this contention, Victorian attitudes insisted that because women were the weaker sex, they should be protected rather than exploited and their purity and spirituality of mind required that they should be shielded from the coarse-ness of the male sex.  The Victorians always required a display of gentlemanly behaviour and any failure in this respect involved the risk of formidable sanctions under the moral code.

The Middle Classes

Queen Victoria's reign was described as 'the sixty years of the middle class man' and his enhanced influence in matters of state enabled him to preach the gospel of sobriety, thrift, piety and hard work, with the result that Britain enjoyed her greatest period of overseas power and middle class prosperity.  From about the 1870's the middle classes in England became sufficiently affluent to enjoy their first summer holidays, thanks largely to the efficient railway system which was then operating.  Londoners went to Margate, Ramsgate, Hastings and Brighton for their vacations and the seaside hotel and boarding house trade was born.  In addition, promenades, piers and pleasure gardens began to appear in towns near the sea and to this day much of the accommodation and holiday facilities in our coastal resorts has been inherited from the Victorians.

Education

Education began to figure more prominently in the nation's itinerary in the latter half of Victoria's reign and from 1870 the law required that there should be a village school within the reach of every child.  Educational facilities were even better in the towns and the populace was encouraged to move into the built-up areas and thereby enjoy the increased opportunities available.  So successful was this campaign that the 1901 census held in the year Queen Victoria died, revealed that the town population of England and Wales amounted to 25 million with only 7.5 million left in the country.  Fifty years earlier the populace had been almost equally divided between town and country.

The public schools also came into their own during the second half of Victoria's reign although the system was largely monitorial (self-governing) and in the mid-1860's Mr H. M. Butler, Headmaster of Harrow School, said, 'No great school could long live in a healthy state without this system'.  Despite the power of the public schools (together with the universities, the Church and the armed forces' heirarchy) industrial progress demanded a greater show of professionalism and craftsmanship; it was no longer sufficient just to be a member of the ruling classes.  After 1870, when more people were able to read, the weight of mail increased as written communication between sections of the population improved, newspaper circulations rose and advertising became a new medium.

Farming

Farming was still a major industry in Britain, governed as it was by the Squire system.  The new industrial age had brought great prosperity to the large farm owners because of an insatiable demand by the wealthier populace for more and more food but from 1870 onwards Continental merchants began to infiltrate our home market.

Towards the end of this decade the farmers' failing fortunes were further exacerbated by a bad run of seasons.  On 31st December 1879, a Monmouthshire farmer wrote in his diary, 'This year has been one of the wettest in living memory and a very disastrous one for agriculture.  Having a bad year of corn and sheep rotten'.  The influence of country life began to diminish and national horizons constantly broadened with the extension of the railway system.

The Law

The Victorians did much to set new standards of social behaviour and to remove from English life the brutality, coarseness and dissolute habits which prevailed in the 18th century.  Nevertheless they could get tough when dealing with crime and the law met violence with brutality.  The revolutionary tendencies of the 18th century were not tolerated in Victorian times and this was due in no small part to the formation of the first police force about eight years before the Queen's accession in 1837.  The prison system was punitive and rehabilitation was practically unknown.  Public hangings were a popular spectacle until 1868.

Privations of the Working Class

The poorer classes frequently lived in filthy conditions since adequate sanitation and drainage were unknown for most of the last century.  Distances to springs and ponds were frequently prohibitive and many people's personal hygiene was limited to washing their faces.  The working class constantly lived amid bad smells and disease was rife until the 1880's, particularly in respect of cholera, rickets and tuberculosis.

In 1844 Southwood Smith wrote, 'The wretched state of his home induces man to spend his money on strictly selfish gratification; coming home to recover from tiredness and exhaustion, he needs quiet and refreshment.  Instead he finds filth, squalor and discomfort and he naturally gets away from it if he can'.  Normally this meant drowning his sorrows at the local ale house.  Sexual licence was one of the few privileges of the poor and labourers frequently exchanged wives after visits to the public house, which was the poor man's main social rendezvous.

Employment

Many women in the country areas left home to find domestic work with wealthy sub-urban families or middle class employers in town and the employment of children was a scandal in the early Victorian period when youngsters worked for up to sixteen hours each day for a maximum wage of half a crown (12p) a week.

As mentioned earlier, the last quarter of the century saw an improvement in educational facilities, resulting in a gradual withdrawal of child labour from the factories and mines but industrialists then turned to the farms where an untapped source of cheap adult labour was available for the asking.  The mass transfer of labour from farms to factories created an urgent need for additional housing in the industrial areas and it was in this sort of social climate that townships of Wealdstone's calibre developed and prospered.

Times have changed again however, and the slated roofs, sashed windows and narrow hallways of the Victorian terraced houses are no longer the attractive proposition that they were to the tenants of seventy-five years ago.

The Domesday Book

For a moment we will extend our survey beyond the confines of Wealdstone and consider details contained in William the Conqueror's unique Domesday Book which will enable estimates to be made with regard to both the population and territorial extent of Harrow early in this millennium.  The conclusion is that approximately six or seven hundred people - including a priest and three knights - were then resident in the Manor of Harrow which covered an area of approximately thirteen and a halt thousand acres, the majority of which was pasture land.

From the Middle Ages there was a steady increase in the amount of land used for agricultural purposes and in the 16th century the acreage around Harrow became almost entirely subdivided into farmland.

Apart from the effects of increased cultivation, our local countryside remained largely unspoiled until the last quarter of the 19th century, by which time the tentacles of the industrial revolution had extended into the County of Middlesex.

The Origin of Wealdstone

'Weald' is a descriptive word synonymous with woodland and, for many scores of years, was associated with various features in what is now the Harrow Weald area.  There was Weald Coppice (the Copse Farm area); Weald Common; Weald Wood; Weald Green and Weald Stone, the last named being a Middlesex village situated around the old Red Lion public house and associated with the famous Sarsen Stone to which we have referred on several occasions in these volumes (see photograph on page 27 of Volume II).

This stone undoubtedly has a very special significance in the history of the original Weald Stone area: one historical explanation for the existence of Sarsen stones is that they used to mark trackways to guide the spirits of deceased tribal chieftains but geologists believe that they may have been deposited by ice age glaciers more than ten thousand years ago.

Sarsen is a 17th century name derived from the word Saracen, meaning an unusual or peculiar object: the stones are of sandstone and the Red Lion example was probably transported from Berkshire or Wiltshire where they have been found in some numbers.

The London and Birmingham Railway severed the countryside in the second quarter of the 19th century and the nucleus of a new town began to form around what was then known as Harrow Station: by 1852 several cottages had been built by the railway and there was also an inn and a house.  Settlement in the area (which was known as Station End) continued to advance along both sides of the High Street and just prior to 1870 the community adopted the neighbouring name of Weald Stone.  In 1880, when the Metropolitan Railway penetrated the heart of Harrow, the local stopping place was redesignated as Harrow and Wealdstone Station, by which time there were over two hundred houses in Wealdstone and further development was stretching out towards both Harrow and Headstone.

With the arrival of larger industrial concerns (notably Kodak) in the last decade of the 19th century, the expansion of Wealdstone accelerated and included amenities such as a few shops, a church, school, smithy and four public houses.  Despite this promising growth, the town was still entirely surrounded by farmland and the few existing highways petered out in lanes or fields.  To the north-west of Wealdstone, beyond the end of the High Street, were the meadows of Tom Durrant's farm: to the north-east were the five fields of New College Farm and in the south the remaining undeveloped land of Greenhill spread out between the railway and Harrow.  In a westerly direction, beyond the Kodak factory, was the acreage of Headstone Manor Farm.

Twentieth Century Growth

With the turn of the century, Wealdstone became increasingly aware of its newly found importance as an industrial centre but the authorities were anxious to maintain the overall image of a new town growing up gracefully in pleasant surroundings.  This attitude was apparent in a brochure produced by the local authority in 1912 which said, 'The town has developed around the L & N W Station ... and may be very properly described as a growing and improving district and its vital statistics are very satisfactory.  The soil is London clay with a thin coating of loam and residence upon this does not appear to be unhealthy ... It is in fact one of the most delightful residential districts in the near vicinity of London which is just over eleven miles away ... within easy reach of the City and West End, thanks to the excellent rail facilities.  The air is most bracing ... and the rates are low at three shillings (15p) in the pound'.

Some of the advertisements in the brochure make amusing reading and demonstrate that publicity techniques still retained an element of Victorian naivety.  A small drapery firm pronounced, 'Our progress and success have been built up on the principles of Integrity, Truthfulness, Value giving. Dignity, Liberality, Courtesy and Originality, coupled with a determination to satisfy ...'.

A tailoring establishment announced that they had been 'awarded two diplomas and a bronze medal for their work executed by skilled craftsmen on the premises.  Specialities: Liveries, Riding Habits, Costumes ...'.

Another advertisement featured, 'Hall's Renowned Sanitary Washable Distemper', the forerunner of modern vinyl paint.  The same brochure quoted examples of the inexpensive rail fares which operated in those days: a return fare from Harrow and Wealdstone to Euston cost 2s.3d (11p) and a first class quarterly season ticket cost £3.8s.3d (£3 41p).

Between the two world wars, Wealdstone's highways became increasingly linked with the surrounding areas of Harrow but, throughout the first three-quarters of the 20th century, the Victorian character of the town remained unchanged.

Desirable as this may be in the otherwise ever-changing environment of the modern world, the need for a new look and a fresh approach to its traffic problems are now overdue and the Council has both long and short term aspirations with these considerations in mind.

The Future of Wealdstone

In 1975 the Council declared that part of Wealdstone should be a general improve-ment area and residents received home improvement grants with the intention of prolonging the life of older housing stock in the district.

Following a local exhibition, an attempt was made to encourage the residents and workers (by means of a questionnaire) to express their views about the form that long-term improvements to Wealdstone should take and various alternative schemes for the replanning of the town centre are under consideration.

Should the Council consider proceeding with any particular scheme, financial assistance will be sought from the Greater London Council and, if forthcoming, the first phase in redevelopment may soon commence.  It should be remembered, however, that the complete modernisation of Wealdstone is very much a long term plan which may take many years to reach fruition.

A representative of the Council would not commit himself at the time this introduction was written but it is understood from unofficial sources that at least one scheme would provide an alternative through road for Wealdstone thereby enabling the existing High Street to become a pedestrian precinct.

A proposal to re-direct traffic around Wealdstone by introducing a new one-way system has been discarded by the Council.

 

Wealdstone High Street

At first sight, especially to a newcomer to the district, a walk from one end to the other cannopt claim to be all that absorbing.  Some interesting shops perhaps - one or two obvious conversions and a couple of churches - that would be all there is to see.  Yet of course older residents, if the trafic hazards allow them , will see in the present buildings odd features that will perhaps brong back memories of a village main road.  What visible reminders are there of earlier times?

We must of course start from the Station which has overlooked the High Street throughout the development of the village from a lane to its present status as a busy part of the Borough.  When the London and Birmingham Railway was built the placing of the "Harrow" Station at this spot marked the start of a process of development from fields to factories, from rural settlement to a suburb, a process which was repeated all over the country in the expanding Victorian era.

The railway was built and came into operation in 1837.  Then it was tucked away down a side road by the bridge with a station-master's house on the High Street frontage.  It remained thus until 1912 when the station was rebuilt in the style we see now.  An electric service was being planned then, but was delayed by the first world war.  It was not until 1965 that the whole line was electrified.  Looking across the road to the first shops - the date they were built is given to us (above the shops) as 1904.  Opposite them is a row of small offices which came into use at the beginning of 1914.  One of them at least bears the name of one of the earliest of Wealdstone traders - Woosters.  Long before Arthur Wooster took this office he was trading as a coal merchant operating from the sidings of the railway.  We can see the entrance to the sidings between the shops nearby - an entrance that has managed to survive through all the other changes on that side.  Wooster also had a well known yard in Canning Road from whence he operated his extensive contractor's business.  He had the foresight to acquire land in the Headstone Drive area - land which, after his farming ventures, was put to use for housing.  Victor and Edward Roads etc. were in fact named after Arthur's sons.

Looking from the station the right hand side of the road has not altered greatly.  Shops have been modernised and adapted to very different kinds of needs from the early days when most of them were for food, grain and clothing, with a jeweller and a barber.  Today's needs demand Indian and Chinese restaurants, television and betting shops!  One of the traders at least on this line of shops has been there since 1903.  Mr Barnard opened his outfitter's business in that year by converting the ground floor of two cottages into a shop.  For a long time the building remained like this and we can see exactly the same conversions further along the High Street unchanged.  Barnard's expanded under its industrious owner, was rebuilt twice and is now a fine building still managed by Mr Barnard's two sons, Wreford and Frank.  Where Sainsbury's is now sited was once the High Street's fourth public house, The Iowa.  It was popular in its day and many a customer found himself being helped home on a two-wheeled contraption on a Saturday night.  On that side of the road too, stall owners would gather in the evening selling fruit and vegetables - tomatoes and plums at 2d a pound (one new penny).

In contrast, the railway side of the road was mostly cottages except for a few shops towards Headstone Drive.  Cottages with long, delightful front gardens -in season, full of dahlias.  The Queen's Arms, which became busier than ever when the railway opened, had the usual open court frontage which was, before it was rebuilt, graced by two lovely chestnut trees.  The shop on the corner of Headstone Drive was always a grocer's - Ollett's, then Sly's, and is now a pet shop.  Opposite these was the Freeman Hardy and Willis shop which has been there since early in the century (and still is).  Next to the shoe shop was the first bank in Wealdstone, the Bucks and Oxon Union (open only on certain days) and Favell's the haberdasher on the corner of Canning Road.  We must pause and be sure to look at Lloyds Bank (also with the date 1904); it is worth looking at!  The public house on the other corner named after an old Duke of Edinburgh is another institution which keeps the same Edwardian image.

Holy Trinity Church was built at a time (late 19th century) when Wealdstone was expanding with the arrival of new factories and when the large proportion of church-goers had been making do in local schools and rooms.  It is a fine building really, in the early English style of a parish church.  Like many other buildings it would look very fine if its exterior could be restored to its former condition.  Beyond the church there were cottages (where the Co-operative Store now stands), more long gardens and an open arch in the centre to give access to the rear: at the corner stood a tin Gospel Mission Hall - used afterwards by the Primitive Methodists and later by the YMCA.  All that remains of this era are the plaques (plastered over) on the sides of the building (just in Gordon Road) which replaced the tin hut as the YMCA centre. This building too has been absorbed by the Co-operative Store.

Crossing the road again, the shops between Canning Road and The Case is Altered have also been there since early this century.  An ironmonger's, where Winfield's is situated, has been in that position for as long as one can remember.  The present proprietor has been there since the first world war and has not allowed his shop to succumb to modernisation - we still have the pleasure of the old type shop.

Where Snips Supermarket now stands was, in the first part of the century, a coaching yard which linked up very well with the coaching inn next door, namely The Case is Altered.  This yard, once Garraway's, was later (towards 1914) turned into a market and the wall of the entrance is now part of the supermarket which has taken over the site. There was a row of small cottages at one time, 'Pleasant Place' between the inn and the Board School.  These had to give way in 1908 to make room for another need - the Police Station.

The Board School and playground on the corner of Grant Road (now a library and car park) were there long before the Police Station was built: the only part left - The Girls' School - is a typical building of its period.

Opposite again, one can see conversions of cottages to shops by looking above the shop premises which have jutted out on to what was the front gardens.  Further along the High Street on the- same side there are the upper remains of another row of old houses showing above the shops.  Next to them is the seventy year old Baptist Chapel, standing out in its red brick Gothic style as a striking contrast to the traditional architecture of the Holy Trinity Church built twenty years earlier.

The two parades of shops on the other side, from Spencer Road to Locket Road and from Locket Road to Grant Road were built for their purpose.  The latter row of shops lost one of its 'end pieces' when Barclays Bank was rebuilt.  In this row of premises it is interesting to note that the stone decorations above the upper windows are nearly all different in design.  'The Parade', the shops from Locket Road to Spencer Road, contained some of the most well known traders in early Wealdstone - Hebblewhite the photographer, Cox the chemist, Borers and Hurfords.  Hurfords are still in business as printers and remain one of the oldest trading families in the High Street.

The end of the shopping area, behind the Memorial Clock, could almost be called Doctors Corner.  Dr Butler was there from 1900 in his big house 'Ravenscourt', followed by Dr Gaze and others until the old house had to give way to a modern block of flats, in which however, at number one, there is still a doctor's surgery.

The Clock Tower itself dominates this end of the High Street.  Besides telling us the time, it also stands to remind us of the 248 fine lads of the village who, at an age and a time when life must have been very sweet, left Wealdstone for France, Mesopotamia and other theatres of war, and never returned.

 

Canning Road

 

Drawing - Old Dairy in Canning Road

We now move on to Canning Road, one of a group of three highways which are among the eldest in the town (the other two being Peel and Palmerston Roads).

Together with the southern end of Byron Road, these highways comprised the Harrow Park Estate which was planned in the mid-19th century in the City of London and Counties Freehold Land Society.  The Society's surveyor, a Mr James Wagstaff, drew up the plans which provided some 195 plots of land in the four roads mentioned above with prices ranging from £30 to £60.  Depending upon whether detached or semi-detached properties were built, the houses … … continues when scanned ..