SOUTHALL: A Brief History

Edwardian Southall

By the end of the century many of the roads now existing between The Broadway and the railway, and those south of the railway towards Norwood had already been built, and the population had come to exceed 10,000.

Soon after 1900 the first part of the Broadway began to assume its modern appearance – as the facades of the flats over the shops there today only too clearly show. This was on the whole an unhappy period in English architecture, and Southall is unfortunate in having preserved so many buildings put up during these years. As the shops and flats were erected older landmarks were demolished. Leggett’s Forge on the corner of South Road opposite the Three Horse Shoes was demolished in 1903. Later Townsend House behind it was replaced by more houses in Herbert Road. The next year R.H. Ernest Hill was writing in Picturesque Middlesex of ‘…Southall, where there are pleasing prospects (!) of flat monotonous fields, gasworks, brickfields, and dull dwelling houses’. But although he gives us an ironic exclamation mark he fails to notice the Manor House and the whole of Norwood.

A more reliable recorder of the local scene was E.A. Ham. During the 1890s and for some time after he made numerous sketches of local scenes and events, and for the rest of his long life he used these sketches as the basis of a series of small paintings. His draughtsmanship was outstanding, and questions about ‘art’ are irrelevant: all he was trying to do was paint realistic views of Southall as it had been in his youth. Some of his little scenes are clearly based on photographs and post-cards, and comparing his paintings with photographic sources clearly shows what his contribtion was. After his death in 1956 about seventy of his pictures were given to the Public Library by his family.

In 1905 the Public Library was opened in a new building in Osterley Park Road. The Countess of Jersey was called upon to lay the foundation stoneĀ  – the sort of duty she was frequently asked to perform in the neighbourhood – and the entire cost of the building was borne by Andrew Carnegie. Buildings of this era are not fashionable these days, and it cannot be denied that the exterior of the library hardly tempts the casual passer-by to look inside, but in recent years the interior has been remodelled to make the most of its space and of natural lighting.

The next year, 1906, saw the publication of J.B. Firth’s Middlesex. Of Southall he says:

‘It lies in very flat and uninteresting country. A new village has sprung up around the Great Western Railway, consisting chiefly of small cottages for the railway workers. This is Southall Green to the south of the Uxbridge Road, where a poor church (St John) was built in 1838. Previously Southall was merely a hamlet of Norwood. Now the electric trams have diverted building operations to the vicinity of he high-road’.

The trams had first run between Southall and Acton in July 1901. St George’s church between Tudor Road and Lancaster Road was built in 1906 with proceeds from the sale of the site of St George’s. Botolph Lane in the City of London. The church comissioners had found it expedient to demolish the city church, and the new streets in western Southall seemed to justify a new parish.

The interesting pulpit and organ-case are both from the old city church.