SOUTHALL: A Brief History

This award is a fat set of huge parchment sheets written in manuscript and exists in only one copy now at the County Record Office. A set of maps was also issued to amplify the text. The commissioners were not only concerned with alloting the unenclosed land: they had also to fix the width and extent of public and private roads as well as footpaths and driftways (i.e. tracks along which cattle and other livestock were to be driven); to authorise the use of gravel pits to yield material for repairing road surfaces; and to name ponds available for public use. Since many owners of houses and lands already enclosed were not entitled to further allotments, or at least to allotments large enough to enable them to surrender part of it as compensation for the tithe, it was arranged that they should make the necessary payment as a corn rent.

From the schedules and maps attached to the Award we can see exactly who were the landowners in Southall, the extent of their property, and in many instances the names of their individual fields and the uses to which certain buildings were put. Nearly all the field-names have entirely disappeared, and none of the blacksmiths’ shops, wheelwrights’ yards or mills are to be found today. Scarcely a dozen of the buildings shown on the map can still be seen: even those public houses which survive with the same name and in the same place are frequently recent rebuildings of original structures.

In 1829 work was begun on the building of the huge county lunatic asylum – now St Bernard’s Hospital – the original buildings still stand but there have been numerous additions at various times. The site had earlier been called Cheavy Chase, and Lediard’s map of about 1750 shows that an inn called the Oxford Arms had stood there.

Previously mentally sick patients had generally been treated with violence and viewed with amusement, but pioneers were begining to realise that much could be done to improve the condition of sufferers if they had more careful treatment. On the completion of the Asylum in 1831 the committee appointed Dr. William Ellis and his wife to run the establishment. Ellis was one of the great reformers in this branch of medicine, and something of his calibre can be learnt from this extract from his first report:

‘With even the greatest solicitude for their comfort, the want of sufficient air and excersise, which can only be obtained in a large building with ample grounds, presents the most formidable obstacle to their cure’.

He tried to give his patients some manual work which would suit them and be in some degree theraputic; he was able to state with justifiable pride:

‘not a single accident had occurred from the patients having been entrusted with the tools used in their different occupations’.

and reminds us that these included spades, bill-hooks and scythes. Ellis was deeply committed to this method of treatment and firmly opposed any unnecessary restraint on his patients, realising that restraint only exacerbated their condition. Such was his reputation that he was knighted shortly after taking charge of the asylum. He lived conveniently nearby at Southall Park where his widow continued to live after his death in 1840, two years after he had retired from his duties.