As our Law Firm is based in Edgware, we wanted to provide an article that explored the history of our local area and to highlight some of the interesting facts that Edgware has to offer.
Edgware’s history has been shaped by its location. It lies on the historic Watling Street, where it was once in the open countryside. As London grew, Edgware began to grow too, so that it is now sandwiched between the city and green belt. However, the area resisted this growth for a long time and remained a small, rural community until the 20th century.
The name Edgware derives from Ecgi’s weir, a Saxon name that indicates Ecgi and his companions once fished in a pool here. However, there were far more trees than people here at that time, and many of the people who passed through Edgware would not have stayed long. At the time of the Domesday book in 1086 there were no manors in Edgware. Although there were lords living in neighbouring areas, Edgware itself has never had its own manor house. The main property in the area was in fact a farm, known as Edgwarebury Farm, but even this was not built before 1216.
The area around the farm was still largely forested, as most of England was at this time. However, agriculture gradually took over more of the land between the 13th and 16th centuries. A lot of the land in Edgware was dedicated to haymaking and the area also became a popular stopping point for farmers bringing cattle from other parts of the county to be sold in London. The animals would be kept in Edgware to be rested and fattened up so that they could achieve the best prices when they were sold. A small weekly market took place in Edgware itself until the 1790s and many local people were able to make a good living in trades such as tailoring, selling charcoal, and brewing.
On the Road
Despite being such a rural area, Edgware actually saw many travellers passing through it along an old Roman road known as Watling Street. The road crosses England, from Canterbury all the way up to the Welsh border at the Roman town of Wroxeter. Everyone from Roman soldiers to cattle drovers to medieval pilgrims would have made their way through Edgware along this route, which is still in use today as Edgware Road.
The road became much busier when it was improved by the Edgware-Kilburn turnpike trust, who started collecting tolls to improve and maintain the highway in 1711. Coaching inns were established along the route to provide resting places for travellers and their horses, but there were still many risks and discomforts associated with travel at this time. Many dangerous highwaymen were known to rob travellers along the Edgware Road, including the famous Dick Turpin. Turpin actually began his criminal career in the Edgware area, as a burglar rather than as a seemingly heroic highwayman. Before his story became romanticised, Turpin was one of a gang who robbed and tortured the elderly owner of Earlsbury Farm in Edgware.
Prosperous farmers and trades people were not the only people living in Edgware at this time. The area was also attracting some far richer residents, most notably James Brydges, the first Duke of Chandos, who built himself a grand home at Cannons Park in 1713. He paid £250,000 for the work, which would be more than £33 million in today’s money. The house was demolished in 1744. The contents, pieces of the house and the land it stood on was sold off to pay the Duke’s debts after his death.
The Duke brought more than money to Edgware. He also played host to the composer Handel, who lived at Cannons Park in 1717 and 1718. According to family tradition, it was while sheltering from the rain in the forge of local blacksmith William Powell that Handel was inspired to write The Harmonious Blacksmith. Unfortunately, this local legend could not be true as Handel had composed the piece before he arrived in Edgware. However, he certainly wandered through the parish and wrote many pieces while living with his benefactor.
A Parish Divided
Edgware continued to attract wealthy families in the 19th century, when it remained a very rural and sparsely populated area. It did not experience as much growth as other similar communities along the roads out of London. Some elegant new homes were built by people who wanted a country house within easy reach of London and Edgware held regular cattle and pleasure fairs right up until the 1860s, with horse racing being a popular entertainment until 1855. However, this was still largely a farming community and most of the land in Edgware remained dedicated to haymaking.
Changes were coming to Edgware, even if they were a little slower here than elsewhere. One of the big changes was the first introduction of industry into the area, in the form of the gravel pits that were established in the early part of the century. During the Victorian era, these pits employed many of the poorer residents of Edgware, including those who had turned to the parish for help. Any pauper deemed able bodied enough to work would be sent to the gravel pits rather than given charity. It was hard work, but it supported many families, while making a lot of money for the landowners. Some of these pits were still working in the 1960s.
Edgware also made its first rail connections to London during the Victorian era. In 1867, the Great Northern Railway linked Edgware with Finsbury Park. The new station had little effect on village life as the locals were very resistant to both the railway and to any expansion. Plans were made to extend the line to Watford in 1896, but this never happened. The people of Edgware were still opposed to the railway and to the new people and houses it would bring. Much of this opposition came from the wealthier members of the community, who objected to the architectural atrocities they believed would come with the railway.
The parish of Edgware was becoming divided between these wealthier residents, who mainly lived to the north, and the working class people who lived to the south. The two groups were separated by a band of agricultural land, where hay was still being made as it had been for centuries. The old village of Edgware now had its own school, post office, Railway Hotel, and station, but its growth had been limited. Edgware still had a very small population, many of whom were resistant to the suburban growth they saw happening in other areas around London.
Edgware in the 20th Century
The growth of London could not be held off forever. The suburban growth that had been beginning in the southern part of the parish started to take over the whole of Edgware at the dawn of the 20th century. More houses were built, more commuters moved in, and Edgware even got its first true taste of industry.
One of the biggest companies to set up in Edgware was Charles Wright Ltd, an engineering firm that employed many people in the area through most of the century. The company came to Edgware in 1900 and manufactured a wide range of different products until the factory closed in 1972. Among these were two million medals produced to honour soldiers at the end of the First World War, the metal components needed for 94.5 million gas masks in the Second World War, and a huge number of registration plates for the many cars that were on the roads by the 1960s.
Despite these changes, the population remained small. In 1921, there were still only 1516 people living in Edgware. It hadn’t grown much after the introduction of a tram service into London in 1904 and the influence of the railway remained weak. The railway line closed to passengers in 1939, with freight trains stopping in 1964.What changed Edgware in the end was its connection to the London Underground. The Edgware tube station opened in 1924, and it soon attracted both commuters and developers to the area. Many new homes were built in the area by developers like George Cross in the 1920s. Cross was responsible for developing the Canons Park estate, on the site of the Duke of Chandos’ property. Some of the original gardens remain in Canons Park and it is still possible to see the old entrance pillars flanking the entry to Canons Drive, where it meets Edgware Road.
The community continued to grow as a suburb of London. In 1932 it became part of the Municipal Borough of Hendon, by which time it had a busy shopping district around Station Road and even its own cinema, known as the Ritz. Edgware Town F.C. was founded in 1939. Edgware continued to grow in the post-war period. By the 1960s it had a population of about 17,000. Edgware had become a suburb at last, and it joined the London Borough of Barnet in 1965.
However, the growth of Edgware was still restricted, not by the reluctance of any wealthy landowners but rather by the drive to preserve green space around the capital. The suburbs of Edgware were prevented from pushing further into the countryside by the establishment of the Metropolitan Green Belt, which ensured that areas such as the old Edgwarebury Farm fields and Scratchwood, part of the ancient Middlesex Forest, remained untouched.