SOUTHALL: A Brief History

Present-day Southall

In the report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London30, published in 1960, it was proposed to reunite Southall with Hayes as part of a general scheme for making fewer larger local authorities which were to have somewhat different powers from the boroughs and urban districts of the time. The new boroughs were to be more akin to county boroughs, except that there was still to be a Greater London Council retaining certain powers. The Minister of Housing and Local Government later decided that even fewer and larger boroughs would be more desirable, but that their functions would be much as the Royal Commission had suggested. It was decided to form a London Borough of Ealing incorporating the boroughs of Ealing , Acton and Southall, which would come into being in April 1965.

Southall has been the home of a few notable people apart from those already mentioned in this history. Special mention must be made of the artist and book-illustrator Harry Rountree (1878-1950), whose inventive and witty advertisements are most delightful; of Sister Gladys Stephenson, whose missionary work in China bears comparison with the achievements of Miss Gladys Aylward, although Miss Stephenson has avoided the same publicity; and of Miss Cleo Lane (Mrs. Johnny Dankworth) the well known jazz singer, who, as one of the town’s most famous people, was invited to open the 1962 Trades Union festival organised in Southall by Mr. Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42.

What does Southall look like at the moment of its extinction as a separate borough? Its boundaries are not obvious to the casual observer: the urban sprawl in this part of the London area obscures the passage of one local authority to that of its neighbour. For the most part the houses are undistinguished. There are several parks and open spaces, but not enough to relieve the impression of dense population – insufficient houses for the size of the population has prevented the Council from making more open spaces. The large blocks of flats along the Uxbridge Road are an example of concentrated housing that still preserves some surrounding open space, and the Council is understandibly proud of them. Unfortunately, the same planning policy was not being pursued when the vast housing estates in other parts of the town were put up before the second World War.

Factories, on the whole, lie away from the main roads passing through the town. Most are in the area immediately south of the railway. The Broadway, though unattractive, is a very good shopping centre and is patronised by many people from surrounding areas. A second shopping centre south of the railway can be found in King Street – since the town is virtually cut in two by the railway, such an arrangement is more or less inevitable.

There are some attractive parts even in a densely populated town dominated by a huge gas-holder. In Norwood, for instance, there is the celebrated green, and the church, though not very distinguished, is valuable in default of anything else comparable. Nearby, Osterley Park extends into the Borough and gives a rural flavour, but the new Motorway to South Wales is taking up a broad stretch of the Park just beyond the boundary. Some reaches of the canal also have considerable charm.

The Manor House, bought by the Council in 1914, is now used to accommodate some of the Council’s departments.┬áIt is the most outstanding landmark in the Southall Green area. It has been carefully restored and some 19th century additions removed so that it now probably reproduces some of its former appearance. The gardens round it are open to the public and are imaginatively maintained by the Council.

Brent Mead has been left open and recently replanted with grass to provide a good setting for the Wharncliffe Viaduct: this is an excellent example of how to blend an artificial feature in an natural landscape. The glimpse of the spire of Hanwell church through the arches is very fine. The only other considerable attractions, are the large golf-course accessible by several footpaths and the parks and open spaces. No street strikes me as particularly well laid out; few houses are better than commonplace; no recent public building merits serious attention from an amateur of architecture; no example of recent industrial and commercial building really deserves to be followed. The attractions of the town do not lie at this visible level. Southall, of course, is not alone in this respect, for nearly all its neighbours labour under the same difficulty. The individual histories of such places form one of the few characteristics that differentiate between them. Southall’s history, at least, is unique.