In 1218 Henry III sold the Forest of Middlesex and with this early piece of privatisation encouraged both the growth of suburbs and of farming. With agriculture came the discovery that much of the county was richly fertile, even without the later additions of all kinds of muck and manure exported from London (see below). In his Speculum Britanniae John Norden (1548-1625) wrote that ‘The soil of Middlesex is excellent fat and fertile and full of profite: it yeeldeth corne and grane, not onlie in abundance, but most excellent good wheate, especially around Heston, which place may be called Granarium tritici regalis for the singularitie of the corne. The vaine of this especiall corne seemeth to extend from Heston to Harrow on the Hill between which in the middle is Perivale .. Yet doth not this so fruitful soyle yeeld comfort to the wayfairing man in the winter time, by reason of the claiesh nature of the soyle which after it hath tasted the autumne showers waxeth both dirtie and deep: but unto the countrie swaine it is a sweet and pleasant garden in regarde to his hope of future profite, for
The deep and dirty loathsome soyle
Yeeds golden gaine to panefull toyle
The industrious and paineful husbandman will refuse a pallace to droyle in these golden puddles.’
Villages came to specialise in different crops, such Hammersmith (strawberries), Staines (peas) and Kensington (horse fodder). Riverside villages such as Chiswick were home to waterlogged beds of osiers: coppiced willows that were used to make baskets, furniture and carts. The fields around London used to be its power source, fuelling the horse power that kept the city moving, and they’ve left a legacy in some surviving meadows such as Totteridge Fields and the hay meadows of Fryent Country Park near Kingsbury.
As London grew the demand for hay increased at the expense of the celebrated wheatfields; the Rev John Roumieu wrote in his history of Ruislip (1875) that ‘this change is certainly not at all beneficial to the poorer classes, whose employment during the winter months is much curtailed.’
Hay fields could be enriched with ‘mack’, apparently an old French work used for a gross mixture of manure with road sweepings (itself mostly horse manure), butchers’ and fishmongers’ offal and other rubbish. After the Grand Union canal was built mack was brought from London by barge to farmers along its banks in such districts as Perivale and Northolt.
The best farmland in the county is currently buried under the runways hotels terminals and service buildings of Heathrow airport. This is what was formerly called the Thames Valley Market Gardening Plain, used both for mixed orchards and market gardens. The author Philip Sherwood (Heathrow, 2000 Years of History, 1990) quotes Stephen Springall (1907) in his ‘Country Rambles around Uxbridge’: ‘Fruit trees we shall find to obtain in this neighbourhood for all around Harmondsworth, Harlington, Sipson and Heathrow are thousands and thousands of plum, cherry, pear, apple and damson trees in addition to innumerable bushes or current and gooseberry which grow and flourish to perfection in the flat and open country.’ The orchards however retreated during the 19th and early 20th centuries under the pressure of competition from market gardens supplying the London market, with smaller growers taking their produce to Brentford and the larger ones taking stalls at Covent Garden.
Elsewhere meadows were also used for pasturing animals, such as the herds that spent their final nights on London Field in Hackney before being driven in to Smithfield or, later, the Caledonian Cattle Market. The ‘Capital Growth‘ initiative tries to revive this old agricultural tradition, with a current wave of enthusiasm for allotments and bee-keeping. There are a surprising number of working farms (as opposed to City Farms) left in Middlesex: this list isn’t exhaustive or necessarily accurate, but will be checked and updated.
Battlers Wells Farm, Jackets Lane, Harefield, UB9 6PZ 01923 840539
Bourne Farm, Harefield UB9 6NA 01895 823227. No longer do dairy, but have beef herd, make hay and also breed dalmations.
Copthall Farm (Dalton Family) , Breakespear Road South, Ickenham, UB10 8HB, 01895 678350 (farm shop) Office (01895 674302) Beef cattle and farm shop selling meat, their own pies and ice creams from neighbours.
Ellern Mede Farm, Totteridge N20 8LS 020 8959 2052 Poultry and winter beef
Horsenden. Horsenden Farm in Greenford was sold to Sudbury Golf Club after the first world war. However grazing continues in Long and Home Mead, the medieval fields under Horsenden Hill. Ealing Council manages these meadows and conserves wildlife by bringing in a small number of cattle from local Middlesex farmers.
Park Lodge Farm (JR &SM Howie) Harvil Road, Harefield, UB9 6JP 01895 824425. Dairy herd.
Parkside Farm, Enfield EN2 8LA 020 8367 2035 Pick your own fruit and veg June – October
Pinner Park Farm, Pinner HA5 4SU — Hall’s & Sons 020 8424 8720
Pinnerwood Farm Woodhall Rd Pinner, HA5 4UA 020 8428 2530. This stud and livery farm had cattle for milking until 1975 and longhorn cattle until 2000. Pinnerwood House is owned by Mathias Kamprad, the heir to Ikea.
Rectory Farm, Enfield EN2 8AA. Seems now to be entirely clay pigeon shoting 07971 162048.
Spelthorne Farm Bath Road, Longford Village, Hillingdon UB7 0EF 01753 680330. Relocated here after moved to make way for Heathrow Terminal 5. Mainly active as a member of the Riding for the Disabled Assn.
Weybeard’s Farm, Harefield UB9 6LH 01895 824252
White Heath Farm(DH Mitchell and Sons), Hil End Road, Harefield UB9 6LQ 01895 823303 Dairy herd and makers of ‘Moolicious’ ice cream.