Brentford & Chiswick

Brentford and Chiswick, both ancient Middlesex villages, each had their own local council, till they were merged in 1927.

1635 map of Brentford
by Moses Glover

Brentford was a ford across the River Brent, a tributary which meets the Thames here. In fact, there were fords over the both the Brent and the Thames (the one over the Brent was probably located where Brentford Bridge crosses it to this day), and Julius Caesar may have crossed the Thames at Brentford (reputedly at Ferry Wharf) when he invaded Britain in 54 BC. But there was already a Brittonic (Celtic) settlement here before that time, so Brentford is actually older than London itself. Brittonic artifacts found there include a bronze chariot knob (possibly for attaching a yoke). Now in the Museum of London, it features a Celtic design called the “Brentford knot”, which has become popular on modern jewellery.

Brentford Monument
(photo by KTo288, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Brentford has seen two important battles in its time. In 1016, an army led by England’s Anglo-Saxon king Edmund Ironside beat back the Viking Danes under the wave-defying King Canute. And in 1642, early in the English Civil War, an army of royalist cavaliers under the dashing Prince Rupert defeated a parliamentarian roundhead army and proceeded to sack Brentford for booty. In the face of this hostile act, Londoners hastened to back the parliamentarians, sending an army to confront the royalists at Turnham Green. It certainly turned the cavaliers green, and they retreated back to Oxford, leaving London in parliamentarian hands. In 1909, a monument to the battles was created using granite blocks from Brentford Bridge; it now stands on the High Street outside the county court.

Brentford Nylons

In the 1970s particularly, Brentford was known as the brand name for Brentford Nylons, famous for their static-ridden spark-in-the-dark synthetic bedding and housewear. It may not have had the cachet of Egyptian cotton or satin silk, and to be honest it wasn’t very nice to sleep on, but it was colourful and it was cheap. The nylons were made at a factory on the Great West Road at Harlequin Avenue, with the company HQ at the junction of the Great West Road and Brook Lane North; both have now been demolished. Also demolished on the Great West Roadsurreptitiously over August bank holiday weekend in 1980, just as it was about to be listed – was the magnificent 1928 Art Deco Firestone Factory. The iconic edifice had sadly fallen into the unscrupulous hands of the Trafalgar House conglomerate, headed by press baron and Thatcher ally Victor Matthews, who personally ordered its destruction (the gates survive). Art Deco industrial buildings still standing on what's been dubbed the Great West Road’s “Golden Mileinclude the Pyrene Factory at #981, opposite the old Firestone site, the Coty Building at #941 (now Syon Clinic), and the Gillette Factory at Syon Lane (aka Gillette Corner).

Vandalism victim: the Firestone Factory
(by Clive Warneford, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Brentford Football Club was originally set up in 1889 by the local rowing club to make use of a new recreation ground. They gained their nickname, the Bees, and a club badge based on it, thanks to a mistake by the local press. The club joined the Football League in 1920, and in 1935 they reached the First Division, where they stayed until the end of the Second World War, being relegated in 1946. And that was the last the Bees would see of top-tier football for over seven decades – falling into the Third Division, and then the Fourth – until 2021, when they made it through the Championship play-offs and into the Premier League. But if anyone thought that was a flash in the pan, Brentford had news for them, beating Arsenal 2-0 in their very first match of the season and ending it mid-table, re-establishing themselves definitively as a top-tier team again.

Chiswick High Road around 1900

Chiswick, whose name may possibly mean “cheese farm”, was a lush piece of pasture in a bend in the River, whose oldest part centres around the originally twelfth-century (or earlier) Church of St Nicholas. The church was largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century, but the tower still dates back to the fifteenth. Second World War general Bernard Montgomery got married there in 1927, and the satirical painter William Hogarth is buried in the churchyard, having lived in Chiswick for much of his life – his home is now a museum, not far from his roundabout. The uninhabited island of Chiswick Eyot, flooded over at high tide, is now a nature reserve, as is the Gunnersbury Triangle, a little wedge of wild land between intersecting railway lines. The waterside opposite the Eyot is Chiswick Mall, the neighbourhood’s poshest street, full of Georgian, Regency and Victorian mansions.

Pride by the pint

Chiswick is also known in London as the home of Fuller’s Griffin Brewery, located just off the Hogarth Roundabout. The brewery is London’s oldest, founded in 1816, and although Fuller’s is no longer an independent firm, having been bought up by the Japanese beer giant Asahi in 2019, it still brews up foaming pints of London Pride bitter and ESB strong bitter, hand-pumped in pubs across town for the capital’s real-ale-heads.

Chiswick Mall by Lucien Pissarro (1922)

Chiswick has been home to more famous people than any other London neighbourhood with the possible exception of Hampstead. Famous residents have included poets such as Alexander Pope and W.B. Yeats, painters such as William Hogarth (already mentioned), Camille Pissarro and his son Lucien, novelists such as E.M. Forster, Iris Murdoch and Anthony Burgess, playwrights such as John Osborne and Harold Pinter, actors such as Vanessa Redgrave, Kate Beckinsale and Hugh Grant, and rock musicians such as The Who’s Pete Townshend and John Entwistle, Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson.

Chiswick Town Hall (photo by Patche99z)

Brentford was traditionally divided into two parts: Old Brentford (aka East Brentford), on the east bank of the Brent, and New Brentford (aka West Brentford) on the west side, originally within the parishes of Ealing and Hanwell respectively. In 1874 the two Brentfords got a joint board of health, which became an urban district council in 1894. Chiswick became one in the same year, and the two UDs merged in 1927 to form the urban district of Brentford and Chiswick, which was promoted to a borough five years later. In 1965 that merged with Heston & Isleworth, and Feltham, to form the London Borough of Hounslow, in which Chiswick, in its river bend, is all but detached from the rest. That was starkly apparent in the 2018 council elections, when the three Chiswick wards went Tory while the entire rest of the borough voted Labour, but it changed a bit in 2022, when Chiswick Riverside and two Feltham wards muddied the water by returning split tickets. Chiswick Town Hall, the old borough’s HQ, built in 1876, still stands on the corner of Heathfield Terrace and Sutton Court Road, opposite Turnham Green, and is now used for weddings and similar events.