Heathrow Road is now buried beneath the runways and terminal buildings of Heathrow Airport.
Heathrow - or as two words - Heath Row - was a small hamlet along a minor country lane called Heathrow Road in the ancient parish of Harmondsworth, Middlesex.
This tiny hamlet gave its name to one of the world's most well-known travel hubs.
Heath Row was obliterated by the construction of Heathrow Airport in the mid 1940s. Its farms and houses were demolished, the orchards grubbed up and the market gardens bulldozed. Everything disappeared under concrete and tarmac.
We'll come to the somewhat murky story about how the airport came to be later. But first of all, we'll take a wee tour of rural Heath Row as it was in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War. We'll meet its people, see its houses and watch a way of life which hadn't changed in decades.
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Note: A lot of the following is based on work by a local historian Philip Sherwood.
The name Heathrow described its layout: a row of houses on a lane by a heath. It was a hamlet arranged in a straggling fashion largely along a single road - Heathrow Road.
Heathrow Road ran south from the Bath Road at the Three Magpies pub, after a mile turned west. After another mile, you could follow another road - Tithe Barn Road - back north to the Bath Road.
We'll follow this route here - a rather extended crescent. So let’s go back in time...
THE MAGPIES was a cluster of houses at the junction of the Bath Road and Heathrow Road. It's still here at the northern entrance road into the airport but nobody now really knows it by its former name. It was called The Magpies as it had two pubs called after the particular bird: The Three Magpies and the Old Magpies.
The settlement also had a church and a school.
The road layout is somewhat different now but, back in 1939, Heathrow Road - the road we'll virtually walk along - led south from the Bath Road corner where the Three Magpies stood.
Heathrow Road marked a boundary - most of the area to the south and east - the right side of the road originally formed the western edge of Hounslow Heath.
The area to the north and west, the left side of Heathrow Road was originally one of the open fields of the parish and was known as Heathrow Field.
In 1819, this was split into individual fields and many of the buildings and farms arrived to exploit the new fields. The vast majority of the Heath Row settlement was to the north and west of Heathrow Road.
Saying how interesting the area is to the left of Heathrow Road and how uneventful the area to the right is, is immediately disproved by the first buildings along the road just as we leave The Magpies.
If we turn down Heathrow Road from the Three Magpies we would have passed a row of houses - DOGHURST COTTAGES - on the left, the eastern side.
The cottages were built around 1900 and demolished in the early 1950s. Photographs show them as brick-built 2-storey houses with slate rooves.
Behind Doghurst Cottages was KING'S ARBOUR - small orchard set up before the 19th century. Orchards were a major agricultural activity in the Heathrow area before the building of the airport.
In 1784, within the orchard, General William Roy mapped one end of the first baseline for measuring the distance between the Paris and Greenwich observatories, the first precise distance survey in Britain.
General Roy chose the orchard for his line as it was near-flat, near Hounslow Heath barracks and about 15 miles from the Royal Observatory. The south/east end on the line was the Hampton Poor House. Both ends were marked by vertical wooden pipes which could support flagstaffs.
Let's walk further down Heathrow Road.
Gordon Maxwell in Highwaymen’s Heath published in the 1930s described the general character of the area:
"If you turn down from the Bath Road by the "Three Magpies" you will come upon a road that is as rural as anywhere in England. It is not, perhaps, scenically wonderful but for detachment from London or any urban interests it would be hard to find its equal; there is a calmness and serenity about it that is soothing in a mad rushing world".
Passing in 1939, a disused nineteenth century non-conformist CHAPEL, the first farmhouse going south along the road was a rather undistinguished one on the left known as BATHURST. In the 1930s, William Howell was recorded living at Bathurst.
Some way behind Bathurst was a neolithic settlement. Alas, all evidence of this too was destroyed in 1944, despite a hurried archaeological wartime survey.
Continuing south, Heathrow Road was renowned for being a riot of wild flowers in the springtime - these included red and white campion, ragged robin, harebells, ox-eye daisies with willow herb and yellow iris beside the numerous ponds.
A little further along on the right-hand side of the road was one of the largest farmhouses; known as HEATHROW HALL. Heathrow Hall was an attractive 18th century building occupied by one of the several branches of the Philp family who farmed extensively in the area. The farmhouse adjoined a typical English farmyard with sheep, pigs and cattle and many old barns.
By the late 19th century, the hamlet of Heath Row had developed three main agricultural settlement clusters with orchards and fields worked by teams of labourers - Heathrow Hall, Perrotts Farm and Perry Oaks. In 1933, Frederick Philp was living at Heathrow Hall.
Almost opposite Heathrow Hall on the east side of the road was a large pond which had probably started life as a gravel pit to obtain roadmaking material. This pond was surrounded by trees and reeds and had a rich variety of wildlife, including kingfishers looking for fish in the pond.
In 1939, the HEATHROW BRICK COMPANY applied to the HM Land Registry to register this land on Heathrow Road. A short-lived brickworks was thus established here
PALMER'S FARM was about a quarter of a mile past the pond on the left. It was an early 17th century farmhouse.
Just after passing Palmer’s Farm, the road forked at Wheatcut Corner.
We'll briefly foray down this other road - CAIN'S LANE.
Isaac Cane owned land on one side of the lane in 1819 - hence its name. The lane led to East Bedfont and was dead straight, having been laid out across the Common by the Enclosure Commissioners in 1819.
Shortly afterwards, a new row of farms was set up on this new farmland along both sides of Cain’s Lane.
On the east side of Cain’s Lane were two twentieth century farmhouses - Shrub End and Croft House - belonging to the Wild family whose family had farmed in the parish for more than three hundred years.
On a corner of their farm and adjoining the road was a corrugated iron mission hall which had been erected in 1901. This belonged to the Baptist Church at Sipson and was the only "church" in Heathrow by 1939.
The Fairey airfield, opened in 1929, was a little further along on the west side of the lane. We'll return to this later and so we'll continue along the lane
By the early 1900s Charles Glenie lived at CAIN'S FARM, keeping a dairy herd of some 20 cows. By the early 1930s, a Mrs Waddell lived at the farm.
Opposite Cain’s Farm, HEATHROW HOUSE had been built in the 18th century, preceding the lane.
In 1839 Heathrow House was owned by a Richard Langslow, who lived here until the 1850s. By 1872 a market gardener was living there, and thus likely that the house was being used as a farmhouse by then.
Cain’s Lane then continued until it was crossed in about half a mile by the GREAT SOUTH WEST ROAD, which had been constructed as a by-pass to the old Staines Road in 1925. The part of Cain’s Lane beyond the Great South West Road was outside the boundaries of the airport and a small length of its south-east end still exists.
Back to Wheatcut Corner and back onto Heathrow Road which starts to change direction and swing west,
On the left is PERROTT'S FARM.
By 1819, the farm was in the ownership of Martha Parrott. A half-timbered frontage was a feature of the farm buildings, set about 150 feet back from road.
In its final years, Heathrow Farm used the Perrott's Farms buildings.
About 200 yards along Heathrow Road from its junction with Cain’s Lane and on its north side was Heathrow’s only public house, the PLOUGH AND HARROW. a small building of no great distinction dating from the mid-19th century.
Edgar Charles Basham was the final publican at the Plough and Harrow.
In 1933, a local trade directory listed George Dance as living in a small house on Heathrow Road opposite the Plough and Harrow pub. Behind his house was WHEATCUT FIELD, a square area of land.
As an orchard, it formerly belonged to Perrott’s Farm. Then it eventually passed to the Philp family.
In 1938, during the Munich Crisis, the Wild family took possession of this field, grubbed out the orchard and planted vegetables on the land.
Heathrow Road now begins to run into the heart of HEATH ROW hamlet itself. There was some buildings after the pub.
Although most of the agricultural land in West Middlesex was in use for market gardening, mixed farming was also practised at Heath Row.
This made it more attractive than the rest of the locality as mixed farming, unlike market gardening, could in the 1930s exist quite happily with trees and hedgerows.
HEATHROW FARM, the next main building, lay on the north side of Heathrow Road. It grew vegetables and cereals. The Curtis family were the final farmers at Heathrow Farm. It dated from before the 1819 enclosures.
An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Middlesex dated 1937 said of it: Heathrow Farm, house and barns. The House was built late in the 16th century and has 18th-century and later additions on the north side. The house has been refaced in brick. Inside the building one room has an original moulded ceiling-beam. There are also two original doors and a little original panelling with enriched upper panels. The Barn, west. of the house, is of the 17th century, timber-framed and of six bays with a porch. A rather earlier barn adjoins this one on the south west. To the west of the second barn is a third, of four bays, and of late 16th or early 17th-century date.
Although most of the agricultural land in West Middlesex was in use for market gardening, mixed farming was also practised at HEATH ROW. This made it more attractive than the rest of the locality as mixed farming, unlike market gardening, could in the 1930s exist quite happily with trees and hedgerows.
Soon after passing Heathrow Farm was a T-junction where HIGH TREE LANE branched off to the left. This was another of the Enclosure Commissioners 1819 roads leading in a straight line to West Bedfont.
We'll just briefly nip half a mile along High Tree Lane to a ford marked on maps as GOATHOUSE TREE FORD where the road crossed the Duke of Northumberland’s river. This had been constructed in the mid 16th century to increase the water driving Isleworth Mill and to provide water to Syon House. When construction of the airport began in 1944 it was diverted to a more southerly route for about two miles of its length.
Goathouse Tree Ford was its official name but locals called it High Tree River. It was a local beauty spot, popular for picnics, where children could safety paddle in the water and fish for tiddlers. Although the very occasional traffic had to use the ford there was a footbridge high above the river. The banks were well-wooded and on the south side was a riverside walk to Longford, about two miles away.
Coming back along High Tree Lane to rejoin Heathrow Road and almost opposite the junction were two cottages, laying back from the road, besides which was the entrance to PEASE PATH, a public footpath running across the fields in a northerly direction to join the Bath Road.
There were a few more residential buildings housing mainly agricultural workers and, in the 1930s, Heath Row's only shop.
Heath Row had an unusual and continuing agricultural focus being so close to London.
Agriculture was the main source of income. The underlying brickearth and gravel made for reliable farming for fruit trees, vegetables and flowers. The soil held manure well and London markets were in easy reach of these perishable cash crops. Most residents were involved in the large market gardening concerns.
Often several sorts of fruit were mixed in the orchards where a lot of soft fruit was grown, often under the fruit trees. Sometimes vegetables or flowers were grown under the fruit trees. An author in 1907 reported "thousands and thousands" of cherry, plum, pear, apple and damson trees.
After the First World War, the amount of fruit-growing in the area decreased due to demand for more market gardening land. By 1939, less than 10% of the orchard area was left.
Produce was taken to Covent Garden market - 14 miles away - or by smaller growers to Brentford market. Until motor trucks came, Covent Garden was about six hours away at laden horse-and-wagon speed. Goods had to set off before 10pm the previous day to reach the market when it opened at 4am.
Many residents grew produce that they would travel into London with to sell. On the return journey, they collected manure for farming.
Heathrow was away from main roads and this kept it secluded and quiet. Parts of Heath Row held on to old-style mixed farming. It was chosen for the Middlesex area horse-drawn ploughing competitions which needed land which was under stubble after harvest.
Next was PERRY OAKS - a ’most handsome redbrick Elizabethan farmhouse’ runs the description.
Perry Oaks had a gate onto Heathrow Road and also a gate onto Tithe Barn Lane and could almost be regarded as separate from Heath Row.
At the end of its days, Perry Oaks was occupied by Sidney Whittington, from an old local farming family. Perry Oaks had some old barns, a dovecote and also a duck pond. It was considered the best of the many farmsteads of Heath Row
With land sold by the Whittingtons, the Perry Oaks Sludge Works was opened in 1936 by Middlesex County Council. This was 200 acres of land occupied by lagoons in which sludge was allowed to settle under gravity. It sounds horrible but was more attractive than its description.
The lagoons were destroyed in the late 1990s to make way for Heathrow Terminal 5 but the works had become a site of some scientific importance by then. A large number of wading birds were being attracted to the lagoons.
Back at Perry Oaks farm, due to its westerly position, it slightly post-dated the rest of the Heathrow demolition, holding out until the late 1940s.
Heathrow Road ends here. Oaks Road leads south and Tithe Barn Lane leads north. We’ll follow the latter now.
TITHE BARN LANE got its name from a barn half-way along its western side that was reputedly a reconstruction of a northern wing of the Great Barn of Harmondsworth.
The area at the junction of Tithe Barn Lane and the Bath Road was known as SHEPHERD'S POOL, the pool being a large pond completely surrounded by trees. It had probably started life as a gravel pit but had become completely naturalised over 150 years when its name was recorded on the Enclosure Map.
And so we've rejoined the Bath Road midway between two pubs: the “Three Magpies” and the “Peggy Bedford” pubs.
So what happened to the hamlet of Heath Row? We need to retrace our steps to Fairey Aviation's Great West Aerodrome on Cain's Lane.
Since 1915, a company called Fairey Aviation had been flight testing aircraft - then a new thing - at Northolt Aerodrome. The aircraft were designed and manufactured at the Fairey factory in North Hyde Road, Hayes.
In 1928 the Air Ministry gave it notice to cease using Northolt.
Fairey’s chief test pilot, Norman Macmillan, recalled an earlier forced landing and take-off at Heath Row in 1925. He remembered the flatness of the land, and recommended the area as suitable for an aerodrome.
Norman Macmillan flew some aerial surveys of the site - then used for market gardening - and convinced his bosses at Fairey to move here.
Fairey Aviation moved on 4 March 1929. The company bought 71 acres and later purchases gradually enlarged the aerodrome to about 240 acres.
The aerodrome was some three miles by road from Hayes and it was declared operational in June 1930. That year, a hangar was built.
In time, the airfield got called the Great West Aerodrome.
In 1943, the Air Ministry secretly developed plans to requisition the airfield under the Defence of the Realm Act (1939).
The plans were stated as suiting the needs of long-range bombers but they were actually based on confidential recommendations for a new international airport for London, replacing Croydon. The project was headed by Harold Balfour who kept the true nature of it hidden from parliament.
Fairey Aviation had in 1943 bought 10 more acres of land to add to the airfield since it intended to relocate its production facilities from Hayes. The wartime legislation provided no obligation to pay compensation and indeed didn’t at the time.
The whole area - from The Magpies to Heathrow Farm to Perry Oaks; down Cain's Lane to the Great South West Road - the whole area was served with eviction notices in May 1944.
It was wartime. Dissent was frowned upon. It was wartime. There was no need for any public enquiries.
Within a year, everything had been demolished and tarmacked over. The location of generations disappeared in a year. Ceasar's Camp - the iron age site - ended up under a runway. Waste pits filled with struck flint, arrowheads and fragments of pottery were found in a rushed survey
Some of the most fertile land in the London area went under concrete.
By the end of the war, the official plans had already changed from wartime military use (which had not been honest) to overt development into an international airport.
On 1 January 1946, ownership of the site was transferred to the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
On 31 May 1946, the newly named London Airport was officially opened for commercial operations.
Fairey’s 1930 hangar was used as Heathrow Airport’s fire station before being finally demolished.
The development of the airport destroyed the north-south road links between Harmondsworth and Stanwell, between Longford and East Bedfont. The large expanse of the airport created a barrier, so that now there is little sense of a shared community interest between the villages to the north and south of Heathrow.
The very reason for abandoning Croydon Airport - being surrounded by housing - is now similarly true of Heathrow.
Heathrow Central station opened on 16 December 1977 as the final terminus of the Piccadilly line’s extension from Hounslow West to Heathrow Airport. The preceding station on the line - Hatton Cross - had opened as a temporary terminus in 1975.
At its opening, Heathrow Central station served as the terminus of what then became known as the Heathrow branch of the line. Previously the branch had been called the Hounslow branch. 1977 was the first time that an airport had been directly served by an underground railway system.
With the development of the airport’s Terminal 4, this station renamed Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 on 6 October 1986. With the closure of Terminal 1, a new renaming occurred.