Harefield Village History

The parish of Harefield lies immediately north of Uxbridge in the extreme north-west corner of the county, adjoining Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire on the west and north. It is roughly rectangular in shape, and although stretching for almost six miles north and south, it covers only 2½ miles at its widest from east to west. The River Colne forms the western boundary of the parish and county; the northern, southern, and part of the eastern boundaries run through fields, and the River Pinn, flowing south as far as Swakeleys Lake, completes the eastern side. Except for some small alterations in the 19th century the boundaries have remained virtually unaltered since 1636. In 1845 the area of the parish was 4,513 acres, and by 1871 over 100 acres had been added, probably along the southern borders. In 1938, when the civil parish, already part of Uxbridge urban district since 1929, was dissolved altogether and absorbed into Uxbridge civil parish, it covered 4,622 acres.

The parish is watered by the Colne and its subsidiary streams, and the Grand Union Canal in the west, by the Pinn in the east, and by a stream running from the high ground south-westwards across the parish to the Colne. At its highest the land rises to over 325 feet on the north-eastern boundary, from where an escarpment runs into the centre of the parish. This forms a plateau above 275 feet, on which the main village stands, and it falls away steeply to the south and west. The southern half of the parish is undulating. London Clay is the predominant soil, covering the western side of the parish. Alluvium surrounds the river and canal in the south-west, and upper chalk in the north-west; the plateau is mainly composed of glacial gravel and London Clay, and is skirted by Reading beds. The top-soil around Harefield consisted chiefly of a strong loam mixed with a small part of gravel, and in the south and east of the parish was said to be favourable for elm trees. In 1602 an elm avenue led to the manor-house from Dewes Farm; this avenue was still in existence in 1820.

Neolithic remains have been found in the parish, as well as fossils in the chalk. There are also two earthworks contained within Brackenbury and Ickenham moats. The first settlement was probably at the cross-roads on the plateau, which still formed the village centre in 1959, but the church is situated a good half-mile down the hill to the south. The principal settlement of the parish was shown at the cross-roads in 1754 and in 1813. Another later settlement was made at Moorhall where the Knights Hospitallers had established a cell by 1333. This, however, probably consisted of little beyond a chapel and farm-buildings. There was also probably some early settlement in the Brackenbury area, where two moats were still in existence in 1959. Small groups of houses at New Years Green and Hill End are both shown in 1754. The only through road ran across the parish from Uxbridge to Rickmansworth, following an approximately north-south line along the modern Breakspear Road through the village. In 1813 this was called Harefield Lane, and New Years Green Lane ended in a fork, the southern branch of which led straight across Harefield Lane to Ickenham. Hill End Road, Park Lane, and Harvill Road were all in existence though unnamed in 1813, but led only to farms and the common.

During the Middle Ages much of the parish was probably uncultivated. In 1086 there was only arable land for five ploughs on the manor and 1 carucate of meadow, and the number of references to assarts in the 13th and 14th centuries makes it probable that much of the land before then was scrub and woodland. The south and west of the parish was covered by the moors which then extended at least as far west as Moorhall. Other common-land probably lay, as in 1813, to the east and north-east of the village cross-roads. The cultivated lands of Harefield manor seem by the late 16th century to have extended around the village on the north, west, and south sides; the park lay in the centre of the parish and at least two farms of the manor lay about a mile farther south.  The lands attached to Brackenbury lay in 1620 immediately around the house, in the south of the parish, and were all inclosed by that date. The lands of Moorhall manor appear to have been rather scattered. The Hospitallers owned Bayhurst Wood, of which 90 acres were still standing in 1813 and a considerable amount in 1959; more of their property lay on the north-western and north-eastern boundaries. The position of the open fields cannot be determined. There were open fields in the Middle Ages and late 16th century, among them North, South, and Middle Fields, but inclosure started early in the parish, and except for the moors and common, had certainly been completed by 1754. Gibbes Moor, which in 1636 had stretched along the north-western boundary, had vanished by 1754, but at that date Harefield Moor and Cow Moor stretched along the south-western side of the parish, and Uxbridge Common ran up from the south for a little way. Harefield Common lay north and east of the village. Sixty years later the western side of the parish had been entirely altered by the construction of the Grand Junction Canal at the end of the 18th century. The canal followed approximately the fall of the River Colne; it included in its length the highest lock (11 ft.) in the county. By 1813 Harefield Moor was almost entirely confined to the area west of the canal and east of the river. The other moors and common had all shrunk slightly by this date. Another change by 1813 was the appearance of some small factories on the canal. Lime-kilns and copper mills lay along the northern part of the canal, and there were coal wharves just north of Moorhall. As a result of the inclosure of 1813 some of the roads were changed. The southern fork of New Years Green Lane was closed; Harvill Road and Springwell Lane were both extended, the one to Uxbridge, and the other to Rickmansworth; Park Lane was taken down the hill to the copper works, and Moorhall Road was laid out over the old moor, and crossing the canal and the river to Denham.

Apart from the roads, moor, and common, inclosure made little immediate difference to the appearance of the parish, and this had altered but little by the mid-19th century. A chalk pit and brick-kilns appeared along the canal and a few glasshouses on the Breakspear and Harefield Grove properties. At this date the western side of the parish, with its large open spaces divided by numerous drainage channels and sluices, contrasted sharply with the small inclosures, hedges, and trees of the southern and eastern sides. By the end of the 19th century the industrial area along the canal was increasing. A very few houses were built along the High Street, and Moorhall Cottages were erected. Some reclamation work had been carried out on the old moorland, and about 95 acres of woods and coverts had been planted. There was also a large number of glasshouses immediately south of Harefield Grove. The Great Western and Great Central Joint Railway was opened in 1905 for goods and in 1906 for passenger traffic. It ran across the south of the parish from east to west, with a branch (opened 1907) down to Uxbridge beside the canal. A station just east of the junction of the two lines was opened in 1928 but closed in 1931. By the First World War the industrial area was further enlarged. A certain number of houses were being built down by the mills, around Hill End, and along the main roads and round the village green, those opposite the almshouses on Church Hill being erected in 1916 by the brickworks company for its employees. In 1958 they belonged to a cement company. Harvill Road and the River Pinn were both straightened during this period. The time between the two World Wars saw some changes: the industrial area round the canal had increased greatly by the expansion of existing industries, though by 1939 the asbestos mills and the distemper works were both disused. A feature of the western side of the parish was the large sand and gravel workings, and by 1959 the north-western side of the parish was covered with deserted sandpits and overgrown workings. The height of the land prevented these from filling with water, in sharp contrast to the old flooded pits that are found along the river and canal. The lanes in 1959 had high hedges on both sides, which concealed the land cut away on either side. Some gravel workings were still being used in 1959 in the centre of the parish, and some old pits were being used as a council dumping ground.

Such house building as has taken place since the First World War has been principally undertaken by the Uxbridge council. They built 212 houses between 1919 and 1923 at Moorhall, around the common, and at Mount Pleasant, but in 1925 there was still an acute housing shortage in the village. Land around Moorhall was bought by Uxbridge council in 1926, it was said for a housing estate, but in 1959 the land remained as an open space. Some private houses were put up in the Swakeleys area in the 1930’s, and more development in the same area was being carried out in 1959. Between 1936 and 1951 the council built 273 houses in the Church Hill, Mount Pleasant, and Northwood Road areas. The council’s scattered housing policy was condemned in 1944, when a plea was made to include the whole parish in the ‘green belt.’ By 1944 over 771 acres had been acquired, principally by the county council, as part of the ‘belt’, and after the Second World War another 370 acres were added to this by the county council. On a small part of the ‘green belt’ land, at Dewes Farm, a sewage pumping station was erected, and in 1959 the remainder was agricultural land. The village owed its lack of development for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes to the fact that its modern communications are inadequate for these purposes. In 1959 no main or trunk road passed through the parish, and although the western region railway ran across the country there were no railway stations serving the village. Connexions with Denham (Bucks.), Rickmansworth (Herts.), and Uxbridge were by bus only. Harefield remained in 1959 one of the few places in Middlesex where the ancient pattern of an agricultural village had not been overlaid by modern settlement.

The oldest building in the parish is probably the Moorhall chapel. Dating from the early 13th century, it is a two-story building of flint rubble with stone dressings, extensively restored with brick in the 17th century and later. The north wall has a 13th-century doorway at each level, and there are eight lancet windows of varying sizes. In 1959 the building was a roofless ruin, but negotiations were in progress for its repair. There were four inns in the village in the early 18th century, and the existence of the ‘King’s Arms’ was recorded in 1748. It is a timber-framed and brick building, mostly of the 17th century or later, incorporating the remains of a 15th-century house in one of the wings. The ‘White Horse’ dates from the 16th century or later. Among the other buildings of the 17th century, apart from cottages in the High Street and Park Lane, are Crow’s Nest Farm and the cottage at Jack’s Lock. They are generally of two stories with tiled roofs, the walls being timber-framed, but with much later brickwork. Swakeleys Farm was erected in 1709 and is a two-story brick house. There are 17th-century timber and weatherboard barns at Swakeleys, Conies, Cripps, and Whiteheath Farms. At Highway Farm there is an 18th-century brick house with an earlier chimney, and one of the barns dates from the 17th century. The six two-story almshouses on Church Hill were erected shortly after 1636. They are of brick, built in a single block on an H-shaped plan, and have tall, diagonally set chimney-stacks. Above the central doorway is a stone achievement of arms of Alice, Countess of Derby, the foundress. The almshouses were extensively restored in 1959, when the interiors were modernized. Manor Court, on Church Hill, was probably built in the 16th century, but has been much altered. A house in the High Street, called Harefield House in 1876, probably dates from the late 18th century. It was owned at this period by John Maurice Brühl, the Saxon envoy to England. He published several astronomical works and constructed a small observatory at the house where he used a Ramsden telescope. The property was bought by the Air Ministry in 1938 and in 1959 was occupied by the Ministry of Supply’s Aeronautical Inspection Directorate.

There have been a number of larger houses in the parish at least since the end of the 16th century, and a feature of its history in the 18th and 19th centuries was the growth of several estates on which country houses were built. The four most important houses, Harefield Place (formerly Harefield Lodge), Belhammonds, Breakspears, and Brackenbury, are described elsewhere; in 1959 Harefield Place and Belhammonds were hospitals, Breakspears was an old people’s home, and Brackenbury, a former farmhouse, was privately occupied. Of the hospitals, Belhammonds became the Harefield Chest Hospital after the First World War. In 1959 it consisted principally of modern buildings, though the original house was retained for the use of the medical staff. Harefield Place (formerly Harefield Lodge) became the Harefield Country Hospital in 1936 and was used in 1959 solely for maternity and female post-operative cases. No modern buildings have been erected here and the house still stands in 22 acres of ground. Another late-18th-century building standing on Breakspear Road North is the old workhouse. Built of red brick in 1782, it is a three-story house of five bays with a central doorway and three gabled dormers. In 1959 it had been divided, and was in private occupation. Good examples of early-19thcentury domestic architecture include Harefield Grove, Whiteheath Farm, Shepherds Hill House, and the Lodge (Rickmansworth Road). Among the industrial buildings near the canal are a number dating from the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and the Bell rubber works incorporates an 18th-century house incorrectly called the Manor House in 1959. There are also early-19th-century cottages along the towpath of the canal.

A number of eminent men have lived in, or been associated with, the parish at various times. Thomas Brackenbury or de Brakenburgh, after whom one of the manors was named, was a knight of the shire for Middlesex in 1378, and George Ashby, of the Breakspears family, was clerk of the signet to Henry VI. The manor was the residence of an Elizabethan statesman, Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper, later Viscount Brackley, and his wife, Alice, Countess of Derby, who was a noted beauty and patron of literature. She was celebrated by many poets among whom are Edmund Spenser, Sir John Harrington, and John Milton, whose masque, Arcades, was first performed at Harefield. In 1602 Elizabeth I visited Egerton and Lady Derby at Harefield, during which visit Richard Burbage’s company performed Othello. Another royal visit to the parish was paid in 1899 by the Duchess of Albany, to whom Captain Tarleton of Breakspears was later equerry. Among the Newdigate family, who held Harefield manor with one short break from the late 16th century, there were several notable men. One of them, Sir Richard Newdigate (d. 1678), was made a judge by Cromwell and was then removed for his opposition to the protector. He was later reinstated, and remained on the bench after the Restoration. Another was Sir Roger Newdigate (d. 1806), Member of Parliament for Middlesex, 1741-7, and for Oxford University, 1750-8. He is best remembered for the Newdigate prize at Oxford which he founded. The Cooke family of Belhammonds provided a colonel of the first division of the Guards at Waterloo who lost an arm in the battle.


‘Harefield: Introduction’, in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington, ed. Susan Reynolds (London, 1962), pp. 237-240. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol3/pp237-240 [accessed 25 March 2018].