Middlesex vs Surrey, Essex, Kent

Middlesex has an unusually large number of place names that sound like people ( Colin Dale, Gordon Hill, Stan More, Alexandra Park, Ken Wood.) Another source of distinctiveness is that unlike Surrey, Kent or Essex it lost not some but all of its territory to the expansion of London. And the generalisations about north versus south London do contain some truth.  When you come into south London by rail you trundle past Victorian terraces and their back gardens: it’s all quite homogenous because most of South London was built in a single expansion of inexpensive housing along the 19th century railways. (This is reflected in the shape of the 1889-1965 County of London, most of which is south of the Thames. Also in the fact that the North Circular which was built on green fields is of some use, unlike the South Circular running through Victorian streets which isn’t even a single dedicatd road.) So on railways north of the river there’s the succession of contrasting scenes that Julian Barnes describes in his first novel Metroland (1980) as ‘relevant, fulfilling, sensibility-sharpening.’ That was on the north-west Metropolitan line, but on the lines out of Paddington, Euston and Kings Cross, great open spaces come and go, mixed with a great jumble of building from different periods. The history of Middlesex is complex because of its piecemeal development. West and north of London land values were high – in part because the prevailing winds and high ground spared residents the effects of the city smog.

Harrow on the Hill, left well alone by the new London to Birmingham Railway, 1838 (note how unlike modern railways in Britain the tracks weren’t fenced off.)

Railway lines began to cross Middlesex, starting with the London to Birmingham Railway in the late 1830s. However its builders were concerned with long distance passengers not in creating commuters, and apart from Ealing, the ‘Queen of the Suburbs’ and first stop out of London on the Great Western, there were few stations built on the fringes of London.  So most of the the county remained country, too expensive for most developers, and when it was finally colonised it it wasn’t, as in South London, by means of steam trains on endless viaducts but by trams (a little), and by lines that were built not to service suburbs but to take long distance passengers, such as the Extension Line of the Metropolitan railway and its rival, the Joint Line of the Great Central and Great Western Railways. (The detailed story is on this page.)


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