It’s easy to live somewhere without giving much thought to the history of your area. Therefore, here’s a glimpse into Acton’s history from earliest times to 1900 by which time Acton’s character had changed forever.
The earliest history of Acton is fairly unclear. However, the name means ‘oak town’ and comes from the Anglo-Saxon. This suggests that it existed as a village prior to the Norman invasion in 1066.
Acton’s first link to national events came in 1642 during the civil war when the parliamentary generals Essex and Warwick briefly had their headquarters here. However, there doesn’t seem to have been much in the way of fighting here. That took place at nearby Brentford.
For the next couple of centuries Acton remained a rural village with a few grand houses, such as The Elms, which was built in 1735. This now houses Twyford Church of England High School. At this time, Acton’s main claim to fame was its mineral springs, which were reputed to have medicinal properties. However, by the end of the 18th century the springs were no longer fashionable and Acton’s star waned.
We did, however, gain a nearby royal link in the 19th century when Princess Amelia (daughter of George II) bought Gunnersbury House to use as her summer residence in 1860. Strictly speaking, it’s in Brentford, but it’s so close I think Acton should be allowed to bask in this royal connection.
The key turning point when Acton’s rural character began to change dramatically came in the 1860s when The British Land Company bought several fields and started building lots of small houses on them. The railways also brought huge change. Although the first station west of London was Ealing, by the end of the 19th century Acton had the most stops and stations of any parish outside central London.
All these new inhabitants brought various industries and in the 19th century Acton became known as Soap Sud Island due to the large number of laundries located there. However, there were also lots of piggeries as well as brick making businesses polluting Acton’s air.
The 20th century brought so many changes that they’ll be the subject of a separate blog. For those of you who would like to learn more about the history of Acton my source was “Acton - A History” by local historian Jonathan Oates.