SOUTHALL: A Brief History

The name perpetuated in Waxlow is the Saxon proper name Wihsa or Wixan, a family or clan also locally commemorated in Uxbridge and Uxendon, which is that part of Wembley round Preston Road station. Northcote means the cottages in the north, but north of that would be hazardous to guess after all this time. One name which has virtually disappeared is Bixley, meaning a box-tree clearing. It appears sporadically in mediaeval records, sometimes as a surname, and was used to designate one of the large fields in the enclosure award of 1816. Nowadays it survives only as Bixley Field, the name of the allotment gardens between the canal and Havelock Road. We can even deduce some Saxon personal names from the places named after them: Wihsa in Waxlow, Geddi in Yeading, Hygered in Harlington and Gilla in Ealing.

The only Celtic name preserved is the name of the River Brent, which appears to mean holy. It is surely significant that the only pre-Saxon name should be a natural feature that was there before the Saxons came: it suggests that there were no settlements until the Saxons founded them. The names for the other local river Crane and Yeading Brook, are comparatively modern and derive from Cranford and Yeading. The mediaeval name was Fishbourne, but it dropped out of use after 1300.

Just before 600 Augustine landed in Kent and immediately began his task of christianising the now well-established English. There was little opposition to his missionaries in the south for religion had never been of great interest to the Anglo-Saxons. We can accept a date somewhere in the eighth century for the conversion of the farmers in this area, basing our assumption on a pagan grave at nearby Northolt which seems to date from about 700. Already, however, bishoprics had been established, and most of Middlesex was included in the diocese of London. Parishes too had been formed.

The local villagers began to build churches, generally of wood but occasionally of stone, even though hardly any dwelling houses were of stone. The boundaries of parishes tended to coincide with the clearings in the forest, and each community of any size had its own church and parish priest.

As Saxon society settled down in the new country, the warrior chieftains gradually became principal farmers, then they became land owning farmers leasing land to smaller farmers who ciultivated their land for them and gave them a proportion of the produce. The land owners (or thegns) similarly owed allegiance to the local kings. In much the same way parish priests were initially private chaplains to thegns, who might build churches for their priests and support them and their families – at this stage the Saxon clergy were not obliged to be celebate. The priests, however, also paid allegiance to their bishops, who in turn were directed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and over him ruled the Pope in Rome. The churches soon became the focal centres of parishes and were at times even built on sites of former heathen temples. Thus it is possible, but hard to prove, that the present church at Norwood stands on the site of a wooden Saxon building.

With poor communications there was no easy way of exercising firm control over all the country by a single centralised government, and there was plenty of scope for local enterprise in the administration of justice. England consisted of several independent kingdoms whose rulers acknowledged one of their number as Bretwalda, ruler of the Britons. Their alegiance was half-hearted, however, and from time to time the title was claimed, with more or less justification, by the kings of Northumbria, Mercia or Wessex. The boundaries of the kingdoms changed according to the results of internecene warfare, and the jurisdiction of Middlesex changed several times as either Essex, Sussex, Mercia or Wessex seized control.

The division of the country into hundreds took place in early Saxon times. Hundreds were administrative regions with a central meeting point which gave its name to the hundred. Southall formed part of the Elthorne hundred and remained so until the hundreds became obsolete in the 19th century. There have been suggestions6 that the thorn tree which gave its name to the hundred, and where the representatives met, was in the vicinity of Hayes Bridge; there is no direct evidence to support this theory, and there are several reasons why it is unlikely. Trees or stones, sacred in the old pagan religion, were often chosen as meeting places for hundreds. Elthorne is variously conjectured as deriving from ‘Ælla’s Thorn’ and may be named after King Ælla of Sussex, the first Bretwalda, or it may stem from ‘œled thorn’, meaning the ‘burnt thorn bush’.