SOUTHALL: A Brief History

Charles G. Harper published his Rural nooks round London in 1924: his title should warn us of his approach . He says:

‘…the exceedingly rural character of Norwood Green is its principal charm…The fine old elms…are quite remarkable, having been so obviously planted in a well-ordered design some two hundred years ago. They stand in two parallel rows, with a pond, or ‘Dutch canal’ as it was called at the time, in between. The place is so peaceful that the existance of busy growing Southall, so near at hand to the north, would never be suspected; but there it is, but ten minutes’ walk. We will not, however, make for Southall, even though it posesses a quaint and interesting old manor house, for it has been become in these latter days a crowded and rather grim and striving place, with great-gas works and manufactories of margarine, and its ancient manor-house stands in what is now a mean strees of crowded traffic’.

The picturesque but unsanitary pond on Norwood Green was filled in six years later in 1930.

In the early 1930s Southall like all industrial centres was hard hit by the depresssion. Despite huge new factories (such as A.E.C. Ltd. employing 2,000 people) there was not enough work, and the work when it could be obtained was not well enough paid. The problem was aggravated by numbers of unemployed from the west of England and Wales looking for work in the London area. Today there are still many Welsh people in Southall and in other towns along the main railway roads between London and Wales, like Slough and High Wycombe. The general economic distress was not really alleviated until after the second World War.

I should like to quote from one more book: Middlesex old and new (1934) by Martin S. Briggs. It has neat, but characterless drawings by the author, who is, nevertheless, one of the very few writers to asy anything intelligent about Southall. He is fairly hard on earlier writers, and in justification he presents a reasonable picture of what the town was like in his day as well as giving a factual historical outline. His conclusion is noteworthy:

‘Southall [is] a prominent industrial district of changing Middlesex. Regret for this change is quite futile; it has come to stay, and we must accept it. Its effects are not so disasterous as in some of the northern strongholds of nineteenth century industrialism, because electric power has largely eleminated smoke, and most modern factories, designed to produce a large output from contented workers, are a great advance on those which made England prosperous fifty years ago. But this sudden industrial expansion in West Middlesex, spreading a huge population of immigrants over a district hitherto engrossed in market-gardening and occasional brickmaking, has found the authorities in some cases unprepared; and has certainly proved the need for attention to the various problems which are now generally described as “town-planning”‘.