During the 1790s the newly extablished Board of Agriculture comissioned several county surveys of agriculture. Peter Foot’s23 report (1794) gives us one of the few comprehensive pictures we have of rural life of villages like Norwood and Southall. John Middleton’s report24 (1797) is even fuller. Neither writer confines himself to agriculture, but considers roads, wages, housing, markets, entertainments and much else beyond their main concern with tillage, pasture, livestockbreeding and similar matters.
‘The farmers of Heston and Norwood’, writes Middleton. ‘also have much merit in setting an example to their brethren, of good farming, in taking two green and hoeing crops to one crop of corn. It is from such attention to the clean cultivation of their land, and from their preserving its vigour, by growing only one corn crop in three years, that the corn produced in that districtis so much superior to that of others…
‘ The road from Tyburn through to Uxbridge, is supposed to have more broad-wheeled wagons pass over it than any other in this county, or perhaps in the kingdom…
but…during the whole of the winter 1797-8, there was but one passable track on this road; that was less than six feet wide, and it wqas eight inches deep in fluid sludge. All the rest of the road was from a foot to eighteen inches deep in adhesive mud.’
Middleton also gives the results of the first official census of 1801 in the second edition of his book. 117 houses were inhabited by 141 families; 4 houses were empty; there were 351 males and 346 females in a total population of 697 of whom 220 were occupied in agriculture, a mere 33 in trades, manufacrure and handicrafts, and 444 are described as ‘others’.
The first great historian of Middlesex was the Rev. Daniel Lysons, whose Environs of London (1795) filled five volumes. Two of the volumes concern Middlesex (including London) and he later issued a supplimentary volume to cover those parishes in Middlesex not included in the main work. He was one of the most scrupulous and reliable historians ever to deal with the county; even today his work forms a useful introduction to the history of the county. He conducted lengthy correspondence with manor bailiffs, parish priests and others who had custody of archives and records, in order to establish and confirm his facts. His chapter on Norwood shows a preoccupation with the church, and his only illustration is of that building looking very different from its present appearance. Among other things he tells us;
‘John Awsiter, M.D. lives in an old mansion in Southall Green. In the garden are several yew trees cut into the form of temples and other buildings.’25
These are clearly the same yew trees still in the Southall Manor House grounds today. From his monument in Norwood Church we gather that this same Dr. Awsiter claimed to be the discoverer of the beneficial effects of sea-water to which Brighton and other resorts owed their prosperity during the Regency.
Lysons gives figures which do not coincide with the census returns quoted above. For example, whereas the 1801 census counted 117 houses, Lysons had earlier found 129 of which 40 were in Norwood, 33 in Southall and 56 in Northcote. The total population is given as 710: the census gave only 697. These figures, however, are so close that we can consider them reliable – six years of almost continuous war would account for the decrease, and perhaps a few young people took advantage of the canal to leave the precinct altogether. The difference is not so great that it cannot be explained by the the normal fluctuations in a fairly static society.