Before the Civil War in 1642 the crown exercised actual or nominal control over the entire country, but at that time Parliament sequestered this responsibility and never relinquished it.
In many ways the administration of justice and local services were not very different in principles and main outline in 1600 from what they are today, with the important proviso that then a small group of landowners elected representatives from their own number for the influential offices, and the mass of the villagers had very little say in the conduct of local affairs. Churchwardens were an elected body from quite early times – or at least one was elected, and the other, since there were most often two, was appointed by the parish priest. Practice in this matter varied from place to place and from time to time. A parish meeting was called a vestry, taking its name from its customary meeting place in that part of the parish church. More often than not the church was the only suitable meeting place for a large number of people, and it was moreover a natural choice for meetings dealing with the affairs of the parish. Churches were not the colourless places they tend to be today: until the 17th century their walls were generally covered with bright biblical frescoes, ceilings and tombs were painted and even pillars were commonly decorated with paint as well as with carving. Stained glass is usually about the only survival.
In 1600 Norwood precinct was still part of the parish of Hayes as we have seen, but it enjoyed a great measure of autonomy. Its boundaries were roughly the same as the Borough’s are today but its population was in comparison minute, barely one percent of today’s figure. Most of it had been brought under the plough or cleared of its woodland for pasture. Most of the inhabitants lived in small cottages in three separate hamlets. In the south there was Norwood: round the village green were most of the houses and the church. North-west of Norwood was Southall, or Southall Green, where Awsiter’s manor house was. This was possibly quite a new hamlet owing its existance to the manor house and one or two other largish houses and farms near it. Still further north was Northcote (pronounced and often spelt Norcutt), a tiny hamlet with neither church nor manor, and clustered about the junction of the lane to Southall with the high road from London to Oxford.
Apart from these three small hamlets the rest of the precinct was open country with just an occasional farm and perhaps a few farm-workers’ cottages nearby. Wexley Farm, halfway to Greenford had no close neighbour; Dormans Well was abandoned in favour of the new manor house in Southall Green, and it must have been demolished not much after this time, for when the first detailed maps were printed in the middle of the 18th century there was already only a hazy memory of where it had stood.17