Volume 8 - Down the Roman Road to Edgware

R S Brown, 1978

pages 7, 8, 9, 10, 11


In our two previous volumes - number 6 (Harrow on the Hill) and number 7 (Exploring Historical Picturesque Pinner) the author's problem was in deciding what should be left out of the narratives as so much historical material was available from various sources about these two towns.  This has not been the case with the subject of this volume - EDGWARE - where more research and reliance upon the knowledge of local residents has been necessary in order to produce the pages of narratives which follow.

Assembling a collection of lesser-known facts, anecdotes and reminiscent happenings is a rewarding exercise since it adds to the limited knowledge of the area and helps to perpetuate the memories of a past age for the benefit of future generations.

There are some unique aspects about Edgware which do not apply to the townships and villages about which we have previously written for this series.  Three such aspects are particularly interesting: first is the fact that the village of Edgware is sited on the old Roman route called Watling Street; secondly it is the only area in our series in which there was once a tram service and thirdly one of the finest London hospitals - formerly Redhill but now Edgware Hospital, has a prominent pos- ition on the Watling Street route, now of course the Edgware Road.

In a series which is concerned with the Borough of Harrow there is a somewhat restrictive factor relating to Edgware which is that only a portion of the village is situated in the aforementioned Borough.  The other part of it is over the boundary in the Borough of Barnet.  But we do not intend to let this boundary limit our approach to the subject of this volume and no hesitation will be displayed if it is expedient to step over the boundary to tread on well-worn Barnet highways and thereby cut into a particularly relevant slice of Edgware history.

It would in fact be more honest to confess here and now that several of the narratives in the following pages are concerned with highways which are just outside the Harrow boundary - for which we make no apologies!

Historical Preamble

In our previous volumes there have been a few references to the possible occupation of Harrow by the Romans two millenia ago but there is little evidence to suggest that there was much Roman activity in the vicinity of this Borough.

In this volume, however, we can be quite sure that the village of Edgware would not have evolved in its present location had it not been for the existence of Watling Street - one of the main Roman roads routed across ancient Britain More details about this fam-ous street are contained in the Edgware Road narrative which follows on after this preamble but for the moment we shall dwell upon the occupation of Britain by the Romans which ultimately brought about the building of Watling Street: we shall then pass on to subsequent historical events relating to Edgware.

In B.C. 55 Julius Ceasar landed on the shores of Kent with 40,000 troops (3 Legions - each comprising 10 cohorts of 500 men and the Auxilia - auxiliary forces).  Although a second landing was organised in the following year, the campaigns were inconclusive and nearly a hundred years had passed before Emperor Claudius returned to British shores to mount a sustained campaign to conquer the hostile tribes which faced him.

At this point in history Britain was regarded by the Roman soldiers as being an evil, mysterious place and they were reluctant to board the ships which were to cross the Channel and land at Rutupiae (Richborough)on the south east coast.  But land they did - well-equipped and armed with javelins and short swords.  They drove the forces of the Belgic Kingdom of south east England across the Medway and then pushed them back over the Thames into Essex.  This phase of the campaign was under the command of Aulus Plautius (who later saw his Emperor receive the submission of British Kings in the capital Camulodunum (Colchester)), but in A.D. 47 Vespasian became commander-in-chief and successfully extended the Roman occupation to a line which stretched from the Bristol Channel to the Humber.  Thus began a new era of history which was to see the British tribes subjugated by Roman domination for 400 years.

These were hard times for anyone who attempted to defy the occupation forces for despite the Roman's military and technical prowess, they could be ruthless when opposition was overcome and merciless massacre and mutilation of local resistance groups was a common occurrence.

The Claudian conquest of Britain had already lost momentum when in A.D.60 Boudicca launched her famous rebellion but after her defeat peace was maintained for 300 years - until the Picts and Scots began invading from the north and the Anglo-Saxons from the south.  Emperor Constantiau Chlorus regained control but Roman domination of Britain was rapidly diminishing in strength and by the middle of the 5th century barbarism had engulfed the country and looting, rape and murder had overcome the ordered Roman society.

Gradually the Anglo-Saxons assumed control and the natives were absorbed into newly-formed settlements.  There is no evidence to support the contention that Edgware may have originally been a Romano-British village but in view of the proximity of Brockley Hill - which was the site of a Roman pottery industry - it is quite possible that settlements began to form around the hill from which labour was recruited.

The word Edgware is thought to be of Saxon origin, meaning 'Ecgi's Weir': the gentleman named Ecgi might well have been a Saxon farmer who built a dam, or weir, to irrigate his land from what is now the Edgware Brook.  And so over the centuries the village became known as Edgware and Watling Street as Edgware Road.  The outline of Edgware's history in Saxon times is somewhat obscure: ancient charters in the mid-10th century describe a location in Watling Street - thought to be Edgware - as 'Town Place' but in A.D.978 the name 'Aegces Wer' appears on an old deed, perhaps the earliest spelling of Edgware.

In the following year the village appears to have been deserted when the inhabitants withdrew into the forest to escape from the unrest which flamed up along the Watling Street highway following the assassination of King Aedward.  At the end of the 10th century Edgware was held in tenure from Earl (later, King) Harold by one Algar but after the Norman Conquest the Sheriff of Wiltshire - Edward of Salisbury - gained control of the village, probably as a result of receiving it as a marriage gift from his wife Adeliza, a member of the De Raimes family.

Edward's grandson, Patric, became the first Earl of Salisbury about 1149 and his grand-daughter, Ela, subsequently became Countess of Salisbury in her own right; but on marriage to King John's illegitimate brother, William Lungspee, the latter became Earl in his wife's right.

Edgware is not mentioned in the Domesday Book - probably because at that time it was regarded as being part of the Manor of Little Stanmore for feudal purposes, but in 1216 - in Ela's time - 'Eggeswere' was mentioned on the first occasion as a manor in its own right.

During the first century of Norman rule the Parish of Edgware was largely forest land but by the middle of the 13th century - thanks to a sustained programme of assarting (reclamation of woodland), agriculture became an important feature of village life.  In a survey of 1277 it was revealed that two thirds of the demense land was being farmed by smallholders and over three quarters of the remainder was arable land with only 90 acres of woodland surviving in a total of 1,500 acres.  In the next 500 years woodland was reduced to a mere 18 acres.

In medieval times the land was cultivated by the 'villeins' (a class of villager subservient to the Lord of the Manor) while the 'bordars' were a lower form of peasant and the 'cottars' held land in return for services rendered to their Lord.  Other tenants were named as the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, located in Edgware Bois, a sub-manor situated along the eastern boundary of Edgware - which was held by the Knights until the dissolution of the monasteries which began in 1535.

In 1441 the Manor of Edgware was granted to All Souls College, Oxford but not before it had passed through the hands of various land owners, the most notorious of which was Adam de Stratton of St Bartholomews, Smithfield.  He was an unprecented rascal who obtained a post in the Exchequer under the patronage of the Countess of Albemarle from where he proceeded to swindle the Royal coffers at every opportunity.  After conviction and reinstatement in 1279, further malpractices led to eventual and final disgrace.

As in the case of many other nearby villages, growth was extremely slow and in the 1801 census there were only 412 people resident in Edgware.  (A century later this total had more than doubled).

The villagers worked long, arduous hours in the fields and their few leisure hours during the week were spent in modest pastimes with the wives at their needlework while the men were regular customers of the several ale-houses in the High Street.

For the greater part of the 17th and 18th centuries a market was held every Thursday and during the first half of the 19th century a fair was organised by local tradesmen on the first three days of August in a field called Baker's Croft situated to the north east of Edgware Bridge.  Horse racing was another annual attraction in August, held at the end of the month.

By the first quarter of the 19th century the land area of Edgware Parish - then part of Hendon for administrative purposes - had increased to almost 2,000 acres of which seven eighths were meadow a.nd pasture land, about one twelfth arable and the remainder woodland.  The population density at that time was one person to every three acres!

As was the case in the neighbouring villages of Stanmore and Harrow Weald, professional people from London and city businessmen chose desirable sites in the Parish to build large houses - which, in turn, provided employment for domestic staff, gardeners and grooms

A rail link with Finsbury Park opened in 1867 and although this was later superseded by the High Barnet line, it was the beginning of a new era in transportation for the villagers which would one day encourage a great influx of new residents to saturate the district.  The public transport service was further improved with the introduction of a tram service which operated between Cricklewood and Edgware and was extended up the hill as a single line to Canons Corner in 1907.

Our collaborator on this volume - Mr L. Scadden - has spent most of his life as a resident of Edgware and he comments rather sadly, "In the last fifty years I have seen many great changes in Edgware - which was once a small village where everyone knew each other.  Now nearly all the old places have been pulled down to make way for larger, up-to-date shops; new housing estates have sprung up all around.  Canons Drive, where we went 'conkering' as boys is now lined with houses."

Yet another location in Middlesex which for hundreds of years existed as a small rural community, was transformed into a thriving suburban town within the space of half a century