In celebration of Middlesex Day on 16 May: 10 Little Know facts about the county

Middlesex is a place still spoken of but where no roads officially lead; a place still written about but which cannot be found on a modern map; a land under whose banner people have fought and died – sacrifices which are largely unknown by the general public.

The county of Middlesex has a long and colourful history.  Here are some surprising revelations about Middlesex – the county that was officialdom almost airbrushed from history but never quite succeeded.

(1)    The County of Middlesex was never abolished.   There has been a lot of debate over the years as to whether or not Middlesex actually still exists.  To set the record straight the county of Middlesex was established towards the end of the 9th century and was at no time officially dissolved.  It still exists today in the year 2013.   Middlesex County Council –  which was completely separate from the county itself – was formed in 1889 for local government purposes only and was abolished in 1965.  This is where the confusion lies as many people think Middlesex county was abolished along with the county council in 1965.

(2)    Did you know that London is in the capital county of Middlesex?  Although people still send letters addressed to Harrow, Hayes, Greenford, Ealing, Wembley, Ruislip, Hillingdon in Middlesex a lot of areas that are normally thought of as part of London (as well as Herts and Surrey) do in fact also form part of the county of Middlesex.  In fact if you look at old maps you will see that the borders of the county stretch from as far west as Staines and Uxbridge all the way to Potters Bar in the north and Poplar in the east.
Gray1824_middlesex(3)    London and Middlesex were the inspiration behind some of the world’s greatest pop songs.  The Streets of London by Ralph McTell, London Calling by The Clash, Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty, Up The Junction by Squeeze, West End Girls by The Pet Shop Boys and The Kinks Waterloo sunset to name just a few.

(4)    Perivale, Middlesex is the home of one of the most iconic art deco buildings in the UK. One of the most dramatic examples of art deco particularly when lit up at night The Hoover Building graces the A40 Western Avenue with it’s glamorous slightly aloof presence.  The original building No 1 was built in 1932 and the increasing demand for vacuum cleaners led to the extension of the site to include a number of other buildings.  During the Second World War the factory manufactured electrical equipment for aircraft and tanks.  Hoover continued manufacturing upright vacuum cleaners on the site until the early 1980s when production was moved to the Cambuslang facility in Scotland.  The site on the A40 was eventually closed and fell into disrepair until 1989 when Tesco purchased the building.  It is still a Tesco superstore to this day and fortunately because it became a listed building in 1981 all works done by Tesco’s kept the character of the building.

(5)    The World’s First Cash Dispenser was installed at Barclays Bank, Enfield, Middlesex, on
27 June 1967.  Reg Varney, of On the Buses fame, was the first person to withdraw cash from the machine.  The machine was invented by John Shepherd-Barron.  In 1967 plastic cards had not been invented so the machine used cheques that were impregnated with carbon 14.  The machine, which paid a maximum of £10, matched the cheques against a pin number.  Shepherd-Barron came up with the idea of pin numbers when he realised he could remember his 6 figure army number but having discussed the idea with his wife decided to stick to 4 numbers as this was what she found easiest to remember.  Today the site of the cash dispenser is very subtly marked with a blue plaque which is easily overlooked.

(6)    The record for eating the most baked beans in 3 minutes was set in Middlesex.  On
18 August 2005 when Nick Thompson ate 136 baked beans in just 3 minutes from a plate with a cocktail stick.  The record took place at an event organised by advertising agency Claydon Heeley Jones Mason at Harrow School.

(7)    Middlesex produced many innovative minds. Trevor Baylis, inventor of the wind up radio, was born in Kilburn in 1937 and grew up in Southall.  In 1991 Baylis saw a radio programme about the spread of AIDS in Africa and that a way to halt the spread of the disease could be educational radio broadcasts.  After watching the programme Baylis assembled a prototype but was met with rejection when trying to get it into production until after featuring on Tomorrows World in 1994 after which he was able to form a company Freeplay Energy with money from investors.

Charles Babbage born in 1791 in Southwark is credited as a pioneer in the development of modern computers who invented the analytical engine in 1834.

(8)    Middlesex was the birth place of one of England’s greatest poets and painters. William Blake was born in Soho in 1757.  Blake was anti-authority, visionary and generally pretty weird. He claimed to have seen an angel and had a penchant for reading poetry naked in his garden.  Amongst his most well known works are the books The French Revolution, America: A Prophecy, Visions of the Daughters of Albion  and the poems Milton and Jerusalem.  Blake was buried in an unmarked grave at Bunhill Fields cemetery in Islington.

(9)    Middlesex was originally part of the Kingdom of Essex until the Danes over-ran Essex and captured London in the mid-ninth century. In 886 A.D. Alfred the Great re-took London and established the boundary between the Saxons and Danelaw along the river Lea. Middlesex (including modern Hertfordshire) remained part of the Kingdom of Wessex until the Norman Conquest in 1066 A.D.

In the late ninth century the shires as we know them today were created. They were parts of kingdoms or provinces which were shorn off to create smaller units, thus Hertfordshire was detached from the Middlesex Province and Middlesex was never a shire.

(10)Why does Middlesex have it’s own special day?  The 16th of May is Middlesex Day.  In 1811 the men from the Middlesex Regiment (The TV series starring Sean Bean was based on them) were part of the British forces fighting under the Duke of Wellington against Napoleon.

On this very day, May 16th, 191 years ago the Middlesex Regiment were entrusted to stop the advance of the French into Portugal or the British could have been trapped in Dunkirk fashion with their backs against the sea. Instead of Dunkirk the village on the Spanish/Portuguese borders was Albuhera, and it was here the Middlesex men fought ferociously to keep at bay the overwhelming forces and might of Napoleon’s army to give time for the British and Wellington to retrench.

The commanding officer of the young Middlesaxon fighters yelled at the heighth of battle “Die hard my men, die hard”. After this tumultuous, history-turning event the Middlesex Regiment became known as the Diehards and on their Regimental badge are inscribed the words “Albuhera”.

On May 16th, we remember the men of Middlesex who have fought under their County’s banner from their earliest recorded battle – the Battle of Hastings in 1066 right through English and British history to similar actions as at Albuhera in the First World War, World War II and Korea.

Show your support for the County of Middlesex by using the name Middlesex when you send paper correspondence. Remember if you are addressing an envelope or package to an area shown on the map above you are entitled to use the term Middlesex in the address.  Talk, blog and tweet about Middlesex.   Take some time to think about the history and achievements of this great county on 16th May.



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