I was never a huge fan of history lessons as a child. They just seemed to comprise of a succession of dry dates and disconnected facts. I couldn’t see the relevance to my own life. I remember learning about certain periods in history such as Russian Revolution, the Tudor age, the First and Second World Wars but they seemed like random pieces of an incredibly complicated puzzle that I had no chance of solving.
However, in more recent times, some well made TV documentaries and my own explorations of Middlesex, the UK and overseas led me to revise my formerly held view of the subject.
Whilst it’s obvious that I clearly cannot call myself an expert, just by learning a little about the history of Middlesex – a place inter-woven in the fabric of my life – I’ve started to understand a lot more about the subject.
In today’s post, in celebration of Middlesex Day on 16 May 2015, I would like to look at 6 ways in which Middlesex of the past has helped shape the world we know today – locally, nationally and internationally:
(1) Royal patronage of Middlesex and the Prince William Connection – The Middlesex Regiment – also known as “the Diehards” (see previous post for information on their legendary victory at Albuhera) once shared our current Prince William’s royal title. In 1881 the 57th West Middlesex Regiment and 77th East Middlesex Regiment merged to become The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment). The royal to hold the title Duke of Cambridge at that time was Prince George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge. Prince George of Hanover was an army man through and through and something of a military traditionalist opposing a number of army reforms. Whilst he may have had somewhat conservative views with regard to the military when it came to his personal life he was something of a rebel marrying a former actress Sarah Fairbrother in 1847 in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act (which said that no descendent of George II could marry without the consent of the reigning monarch). As a result, Sarah (who was ignored by a disapproving Queen Victoria) could not take the title of Duchess of Cambridge instead calling herself Mrs Fairbrother or Mrs FitzGeorge. The title Duke of Cambridge fell into extinction after the 2nd Duke of Cambridge’s death. It was only 107 years later that Queen Elizabeth II awarded the title to Prince William on 29 April 2011 – the day of his wedding which took place in Westminster Abbey, Middlesex.
The Middlesex Regiment Crest
(2) Crime and Punishment in Middlesex and how this spawned a family of overseas Middlesexes.
Due to overcrowding in Middlesex jails in the early eighteenth century those found guilty of a crime could be transported to the colonies for life – often for very minor offences. As late as 1822 a boy aged 13 was sentenced by Middlesex Justices to transportation for life for stealing a handkerchief worth 10 shillings. Conditions on the journey out were often appalling. If a convict survived the crossing they were handed over or sold to a master. The subsequent quality of the convict’s future life depended on the character of his employer. The name Middlesex crops up in modern day Jamaica, Belize, USA and Canada – it seems likely that some of these may be a throw back from those convicts who were transported from Middlesex and established these communities overseas with a familiar name.
(3) Middlesex Guildhall – What was once the most powerful court in Middlesex is now the most powerful court in the UK.
The most powerful court in the UK – The Supreme Court in Westminster – is also the home of what was once the most powerful court in Middlesex – Middlesex Guildhall.
This site was once on an island where fugitives could seek refuge from their pursuers at the junction of the Tyburn and the Thames. The old courthouse which was eventually built was replaced in 1889 by the first Middlesex Guildhall which housed the Middlesex County Council and Quarter Sessions.
In 1889 during boundary changes Westminster became part of the County of London. Property was divided between London and Middlesex with Guildhall going to Middlesex and Middlesex Sessions House in Clerkenwell going to London.
Interior of the courtroom and outside Guildhall Building
(4) Middlesex is documented in the earliest public record created – The Doomsday Book – which was kept from the early 13th century in Westminster Palace and then in the Abbey (prior to this is it was kept at the Royal Treasury in Winchester). In 1066 William of Normandy landed at at Hastings. William’s forces headed towards London marching through Hertfordshire and Middlesex laying waste the country on their way. On Christmas Day in 1066 William was crowned in Westminster . After building the Tower of London to protect him from the raids of the Norsemen, he ousted the Saxon landowners and divided the country among his faithful followers. He then set in motion the compilation of one of the most remarkable surveys in history – The Doomsday Book. The book was a record of the land and resources owned in England at that time. There was a need to defend England from invasion threats from Scandinavia and costly campaigns in northern France and the huge arm of William’s needed substantial funding. William saw the Doomsday Book as a thorough assessment of the amount of tax he could potentially raise from his subjects and their assets. The information was compiled by Royal Commissioners who were sent out around England to collect and record the information from thousands of settlements. The Commissioners carried with them a set of questions and put these to a jury of representatives – made up of barons and villagers alike – from each county. The Commissioners then returned to London and the information was entered into the Doomsday Book(s) – (there were actually 2 books – Great Doomsday and Little Doomsday).
The part of the study in Doomsday which relates to Middlesex is divided up into six Hundreds, with the except of the Hundred of Isleworth which was then callled the Hundred of Hounslow. The following places were mentioned by name: Hayes, West Drayton, West Twyford and Willeseden in the Hundred of Ossulstone, part of Kingsbury, Harrow, Hendon and Stanmore in the Hundred of Gore; Hampton and Isleworth in the Hundred of Hounslow; Edmondton, Enfield, South Mimms and Tottenham in the Hundred of Edmonton; Colham, Cowley, Cranford, Dawley, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield, Harlington, Harmondsworth, part of Kingsbury, Hillingdon, Ickenham, Northolt and Ruislip in the Hundred of Elthorne; and Ashford, Bedfont, Charlton, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell and Sunbury in the Hundred of Spelthorne. Chief landowners included Geoffrey de Mandeville who held Northolt, Pervalue, Edmonton, Enfield, Hadley and Ickenham, the Abbot of Westminster who held Ashford, Cowley, Greenford, Hanwell, Staines, Shepperton, Sunbury, Hendon and Laleham and Ernulf de Hesding who held Kingsbury and Ruislip.
The survey shows that most of the county was arable land or pasture with large areas of wood along its western and northern boundaries. Isolated wooded areas are recorded at Isleworth, Northolt and Hanwell. Surprisingly, vineyards were to be found in Colham, Hillingdon, Harmondsworth, Kempton and Staines – so Middlesaxons at that time obviously enjoyed a glass or two of Chateaux Harmondsworth!
The Doomsday manuscript is currently stored in the National Archives at Kew and is still a valid legal document which can be used as evidence of title to land.
(5) The World’s First Electronic computer that aided the Allied code-cracking effort in World War II was built in Middlesex by a Middlesaxon. The Colossus computer used at Bletchley Park to crack the German Enigma machine code (messages passed between Hitler and his generals) was designed and constructed between 1943 and 1944 at Dollis Hill Post Office Research Station. The Colossus design was drawn up by Senior Post Office Middlesex Engineer Tommy Flowers who was born in Poplar in 1905.
The prototype, Colossus Mark 1 was operational at Bletchley Park on 5 February 1944. An improved Colossus Mark 2 that with increased processing speed, was operational from 1 June 1944, just in time for the Normandy Landings on D-Day.
Colossus was essential to the success of the Landings and its no exaggeration to say that the outcome of the Second World War may well have been very different had it not been invented. Sadly those involved in the construction of Colossus did not get the recognition they deserved in their lifetimes as the hardware and blueprints were destroyed in an effort to maintain security. A functioning replica of Colossus was completed in 2007 and is on display at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.
The Dollis Hill Post Office Research Station closed at the end of the 1970s and has since been converted into a development of flats known as Chartwell Court.
(6) Middlesex was the home of the first Indian Restaurant – there are now more than 9,000 restaurants in the UK. In 1809 the Hindostanee Coffee House at 34 George Street, Marylebone was the first Indian restaurant to open in the UK. Proprietor Deen Mahomet was born in Bihar in 1759 and served in the Bengal branch of the British East India army as a surgeon. In 1784 Deen travelled to Ireland following his patron Captain Godfrey Baker (who had been forced out of the Army for extorting money from villagers). In Cork, Deen met Jane Daly an Irish girl and eloped with her in 1786. Around this time Deen wrote and published his book entitled The Travels of Deen Mahomet. Deen and Jane came to London and Deen took employment at a bath house in Portman Square offering Indian head and body massages before making his move into the restaurant business in 1809.
The restaurant was aimed at Europeans who had worked or lived in India. Deen and Jane prepared a range of meat and vegetable dishes with Indian spices served with seasonal rice. He furnished the restaurant with bamboo cane sofas and chairs and adorned the walls with a range of paintings of Indian landscapes, Indians engaged in social activities and sporting scenes set in India.
Although the coffee house initially received a favourable reception in the long term it lost out to competition with other coffee houses in more favourable locations with established clientele. After less than a year Deen took on a partner – John Spencer – to raise more cash for the business.
Sadly the partnership did not prove successful and Deen Mahomet went bankrupt 3 years later. However, under new ownership the Hindostanee carried on until its last Chicken Tikka Masala was served in 1833.
Left with very little Dean had to find a new way of supporting himself and moved his family out of the Coffee House to a boarding house in far less salubrious neighbourhood in Paddington Street and advertised for employment as an upper servant. His newspaper advertisement read “MAHOMED, late of HINDOSTANEE Coffee House, WANTS a SITUATION, as Butler, in a Gentleman’s family, or as Valet to a Single Gentleman; he is perfectly acquainted with marketing, and is capable of conducting the business of a kitchen; has no objections to town or country”. It seems mention of the business failure in the advertisement proved a miscalculation and Dean was unable to obtain a position so finally settled back into his previous occupation working in a vapor bathhouse.
Middlesex and it’s people have a lively and vibrant history to be proud of and one that should never be forgotten. It is true that modern Middlesex would never win prizes for being the most beautiful county in the UK but there are gems waiting to be found by anyone. All it takes is a bit of curiousity, willingness to learn and of course a sense of fun. The way I see it, life can only be improved by taking the opportunity to discover Middlesex.
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