SOUTHALL: A Brief History

The Borough, and another war and its aftermath

The Urban District Council applied for incorporation as a municipal borough and was granted a charter in 1936. This was one of the few charters granted during the reign of King Edward VIII. The evidence brought to support the application is voluminous and paints a very healthy picture of the town as a thriving and well-organised community. It is necessarily partisan, but the Council were bound to give as accurate a picture as possible to the Inspector appointed to enquire into the claim, so that, along with the more laudable features of life in the District, there are statistics of unemployment (nearly a thousand), sanitary conditions, disease and mortality, and inadequate housing. While describing social deficiencies the Council had an opportunity to explain their plans for improvement.

The application was successful, and with great celebration the charter was formally handed to the charter mayor on 24th September 1936. The granting of the charter of incorporation was the final acknowledgement that the residents were capable of governing themselves within the limits of local government legislation, and Southall was very proud of it. The name Norwood was finally dropped from the official designation, but still survives as the unofficial name of the locality south of the canal.

Almost as a sign of the times the trams were withdrawn from the main Uxbridge Road in the November of the same year and were replaced by trollybuses.

Upon the outbreak of the war in 1939 Southall’s younger population were again recruited to further the national cause either in the fighting services, or else in industries and essential services which would directly help the defenders or the defended. There was a certain amount of damage to property and loss of life owing to enemy action, but on the whole the action was mercifully slight. The railway, the gas-works and certain factories alongside were virtually unscathed despite repeated attacks. Men and women killed in action were fewer than during the previous war.

One of the most famous survivors was Mr. Albert Pooley who was so tenacious in tracking down the German officer who, in a field in France in 1940, had ordered the shooting down of 100 men of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. Only Mr. Pooley and one other soldier survived the massacre, and ultimately they were successful in tracing the officer and bringing him to justice. Mr. Pooley still lives in Southall and his story can be read in detail in The vengence of Private Pooley by Cyril Jolly.

After the war the most pressing problem was overcrowding. The population exceeded 56,000 and there was little room for new residents as well as those coming back from the services or evacuation. The declared policy of the county council was to resettle in new towns as many people and industries as possible, and for a time this was in some measure successful. By 1961, after more than ten years’ operation of this scheme, the population of Southall had dropped to little more than 50,000. By that time, however, another wave of new immigrants had tended to make the policy unworkable, so in 1962 it was formally abandoned.

Most of these newer immigrants were Commonwealth citizens who had exercised their privilage of unrestricted entry into Britain until the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 curtailed their numbers. The detailed census returns of 1961 disclose that there were then nearly 2,000 residents born in other Commonwealth countries, and of these 1,678 were born in India, 102 in Pakistan, and 481 in the West Indies. This figure ignores children born in this country and assumes that an accurate return was made. Since then, the numbers have undoubtedly increased because the influx was greater just before the Commonwealth Immigrants Act became effective, and since the census, many Commonwealth citizens have come to Southall from other parts of the country. Current estimates vary from 6,000 to 9,000.

Indians are the most characteristic of the immigrants, and most of them are Punjabi Sikhs whose colourful clothes are everywhere conspicuous. There is a local tradition that their first arrival began with one Indian ex-soldier seeking and obtaining work from his former British officer who after the war was working for a local rubber factory. Some of the Indian’s friends and relations were attracted by the wages and standard of living, and where there were once a few, now there are almost entire streets occupied by families of Indians. Relations between Europeans and Indians have not been on the whole very cordial. It is to be hoped that a modus vivendi can be achieved.