We all know Acton now as a busy residential suburb of West London about 5 miles from the centre, bursting with green spaces and excellent transport links in to the City and out of town to the country, but for the greater part of it’s history, Acton consisted of only a small cluster of houses around the medieval Church of St. Mary’s. A settlement at Acton is mentioned in the Doomsday book of 1086, and the church of St. Mary’s is first recorded in the early 13th Century.
There was a small farming community and a number of scattered farm dwellings at what is now East Acton. The majority of residents were employed in agriculture on the large holdings or in the five common fields farmed in strips. Although only five miles from London, the state of the roads in early times was such that Acton was at least half a days travel along the road. This led to the opening of many inns and taverns in the vicinity of the church of St. Mary’s, so that the travellers and their beasts could take refreshment and tidy themselves up before going on to London or before continuing the long trek west up Acton Hill towards Oxford. The earliest recorded inn is in 1337, and the number of inns and taverns is seen to increase over time reflecting the volume of traffic along the road.
Acton was situated at a point where the clay of the northern uplands interfaces with the gravel sloping down to the Thames and there were numerous brooks and springs providing clean water.
The discovery in the 17th century of mineral bearing springs at Acton Wells, created a spa within easy reach of London, which flourished for some time, but declined as Bath and Tunbridge Wells became more popular. The relative closeness to London, yet rural nature of Acton, encouraged a number of wealthy people to build country retreats from the City. By the beginning of the 18th century, the roads had improved so that commuting from Acton to the City was possible.
The scene changed little until the 1840s when the village began to expand, but the greatest change began in 1859 when the Enclosure Award permitted the re-allocation of the strips in the common fields into blocks, releasing land for building the lower middle class housing required to keep up with the rapid growth of London, made possible by the extension of the suburban railways. The population of Acton grew rapidly as the transport links improved, and it became possible to travel some distance to work.
In the latter part of the 19th century, a considerable number of small laundries opened serving the needs of the hotels and the wealthy living in the West End. Heavy industry came in the early 1900’s as companies expanded and relocated to the outskirts of London where there was space to develop, but with good transport links to raw materials, customers and for the work force. The two key areas were Acton Vale, and Park Royal. Acton was described in the 1920’s as the “Motor Town” and reported by the Times in 1956 as having one of the two largest concentrations of industry south of Birmingham. In 1932 the motor industry employed 5,400 people, some 80% of the workers in the district.
There has been a market in Acton since medieval times, and the facilities for trading and shopping have grown to reflect the growth of the town. The 1920’s and 1930’s were probably the greatest times for shopping in Acton. In Crown Street, there were an open market and a substantial covered market hall built and owned by the Poore family, who operated a large ironmongers business in the High Street.