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Middlesex
Middlesex in 1889-1965
Geography
Status Ceremonial county (until 1965)
Administrative county (1889–1965)
1801/1881 area 734 km2 (181,320 acres)
1911 area 601.8 km2 (148,701 acres)
1961 area 601.7 km2 (148,691 acres)
HQ see text
Chapman code MDX
History
Origin Middle Saxons
Created In antiquity
Abolished 1965
Succeeded by Greater London
Hertfordshire
Surrey
Demography
1801 population
- 1801 density
818,129
11 inhabitants per hectare (4.5/acre)
1881 population
- 1881 density
2,920,485
40 inhabitants per hectare (16.1/acre)
1911 population
- 1911 density
1,126,465
19 inhabitants per hectare (7.6/acre)
1961 population
- 1961 density
2,234,543
37 inhabitants per hectare (15/acre)
Politics
Governance Middlesex Quarter Sessions (until 1889)
Within The Metropolis:
Metropolitan Board of Works (1855–1889)
Middlesex County Council (1889–1965)
Subdivisions
Type Hundreds (ancient)
Districts (1835–1965)

Middlesex (/ˈmɪdəlsɛks/, abbreviation: Middx) is a historic county in south-east England. It is now entirely within the wider urbanised area of London. Its area is now also mostly within the ceremonial county of Greater London, with small sections in other neighbouring ceremonial counties. It was established in the Anglo-Saxon system from the territory of the Middle Saxons, and existed as an official unit until 1965. The historic county includes land stretching north of the River Thames from 3 miles (5 km) east to 17 miles (27 km) west of the City of London with the rivers Colne and Lea and a ridge of hills as the other boundaries. The largely low-lying county, dominated by clay in its north and alluvium on gravel in its south, was the second smallest county by area in 1831.

The City of London was a county in its own right from the 12th century and was able to exert political control over Middlesex. Westminster Abbey dominated most of the early financial, judicial and ecclesiastical aspects of the county. As London grew into Middlesex, the Corporation of London resisted attempts to expand the city boundaries into the county, which posed problems for the administration of local government and justice. In the 18th and 19th centuries the population density was especially high in the southeast of the county, including the East End and West End of London. From 1855 the southeast was administered, with sections of Kent and Surrey, as part of the area of the Metropolitan Board of Works. When county councils were introduced in England in 1889 about 20% of the area of Middlesex, along with a third of its population, was transferred to the new County of London and the remainder became an administrative county governed by the Middlesex County Council that met regularly at the Middlesex Guildhall in Westminster, in the County of London. The City of London, and Middlesex, became separate counties for other purposes and Middlesex regained the right to appoint its own sheriff, lost in 1199.

In the interwar years suburban London expanded further, with improvement and expansion of public transport, and the setting up of new industries. After the Second World War, the population of the County of London and inner Middlesex was in steady decline, with high population growth continuing in the outer parts. After a Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, almost all of the original area was incorporated into an enlarged Greater London in 1965, with the rest transferred to neighbouring counties. Since 1965 various areas called Middlesex have been used for cricket and other sports. Middlesex was the former postal county of 25 post towns.

Map of Middlesex
The County of Middlesex

History

Map of Middlesex, drawn by Thomas Kitchin, geographer, 1769
Map of Middlesex, drawn by Thomas Kitchin, geographer, engraver to H.R.H. the Duke of York, 1769.

Toponymy

The name means territory of the middle Saxons and refers to the tribal origin of its inhabitants. The word is formed from the Anglo-Saxon, i.e. Old English, 'middel' and 'Seaxe' (cf. Essex, Sussex and Wessex). In an 8th-century charter the region is recorded as Middleseaxon and in 704 it is recorded as Middleseaxan.

Etymology

The Saxons derived their name from seax, a kind of knife for which they were known. The seax has a lasting symbolic impact in the English counties of Essex and Middlesex, both of which feature three seaxes in their ceremonial emblem. Their names, along with those of Sussex and Wessex, contain a remnant of the word "Saxon".

Early settlement

Further information: List of places in Middlesex

There were settlements in the area of Middlesex that can be traced back thousands of years before the creation of a county. Middlesex was formerly part of the Kingdom of Essex It was recorded in the Domesday Book as being divided into the six hundreds of Edmonton, Elthorne, Gore, Hounslow (Isleworth in all later records), Ossulstone and Spelthorne. The City of London has been self-governing since the thirteenth century and became a county in its own right, a county corporate. Middlesex also included Westminster, which also had a high degree of autonomy. Of the six hundreds, Ossulstone contained the districts closest to the City of London. During the 17th century it was divided into four divisions, which, along with the Liberty of Westminster, largely took over the administrative functions of the hundred. The divisions were named Finsbury, Holborn, Kensington and Tower. The county had parliamentary representation from the 13th century. The title Earl of Middlesex was created twice, in 1622 and 1677, but became extinct in 1843.

Economic development

The economy of the county was dependent on the City of London from early times and was primarily agricultural. A variety of goods were provided for the City, including crops such as grain and hay, livestock and building materials. Recreation at day trip destinations such as Hackney, Islington, Highgate and Twickenham, as well as coaching, inn-keeping and sale of goods and services at daily shops and stalls to the considerable passing trade provided much local employment and also formed part of the early economy. However, during the 18th century the inner parishes of Middlesex became suburbs of the City and were increasingly urbanised. The Middlesex volume of John Norden's Speculum Britanniae (a chorography) of 1593 summarises:

This is plentifully stored, as it seemeth beautiful, with many fair and comely buildings, especially of the merchants of London, who have planted their houses of recreation not in the meanest places, which also they have cunningly contrived, curiously beautified with divers[e] devices, neatly decked with rare inventions, environed with orchards of sundry, delicate fruits, gardens with delectable walks, arbours, alleys and a great variety of pleasing dainties: all of which seem to be beautiful ornaments unto this country.

Similarly Thomas Cox wrote in 1794:

We may call it almost all London, being chiefly inhabited by the citizens, who fill the towns in it with their country houses, to which they often resort that they may breathe a little sweet air, free from the fogs and smoke of the City.

In 1803 Sir John Sinclair, president of the Board of Agriculture, spoke of the need to cultivate the substantial Finchley Common and Hounslow Heath (perhaps prophetic of the Dig for Victory campaign of World War II) and fellow Board member Middleton estimated that one tenth of the county, 17,000 acres (6,900 ha), was uncultivated common, capable of improvement. However William Cobbett, in casual travel writing in 1822, said that "A more ugly country between Egham (Surrey) and Kensington would with great difficulty be found in England. Flat as a pancake, and until you come to Hammersmith, the soil is a nasty, stony dirt upon a bed of gravel. Hounslow Heath which is only a little worse than the general run, is a sample of all that is bad in soil and villainous in look. Yet this is now enclosed, and what they call 'cultivated'. Here is a fresh robbery of villages, hamlets, and farm and labourers' buildings and abodes." Thomas Babington wrote in 1843, "An acre in Middlesex is worth a principality in Utopia" which contrasts neatly with its agricultural description.

The building of radial railway lines from 1839 caused a fundamental shift away from agricultural supply for London towards large scale house building. Tottenham, Edmonton and Enfield in the north developed first as working-class residential suburbs with easy access to central London. The line to Windsor through Middlesex was completed in 1848, and the railway to Potters Bar in 1850; and the Metropolitan and District Railways started a series of extensions into the county in 1878. Closer to London, the districts of Acton, Willesden, Ealing and Hornsey came within reach of the tram and bus networks, providing cheap transport to central London.

After World War I, the availability of labour and proximity to London made areas such as Hayes and Park Royal ideal locations for the developing new industries. New jobs attracted more people to the county and the population continued to rise, reaching a peak in 1951.

Geography

The county lay within the London Basin and the most significant feature was the River Thames, which formed the southern boundary. The River Lea and the River Colne formed natural boundaries to the east and west. The entire south west boundary of Middlesex followed a gently descending meander of the Thames without hills. In many places "Middlesex bank" is more accurate than "north bank" — for instance at Teddington the river flows north-westward, so the left (Middlesex) bank is the south-west bank. In the north, the boundary ran along a WSW/ENE aligned ridge of hills broken by Barnet or 'Dollis' valleys. (South of the boundary, these feed into the Welsh Harp Lake or Brent Reservoir which becomes the River Brent). This formed a long protrusion of Hertfordshire into the county. The county was thickly wooded, with much of it covered by the ancient Forest of Middlesex. The highest point was the High Road by Bushey Heath at 502 feet (153 m), which is now one of the highest points in London.

Legacy

"Middlesex" is used in the names of organisations based in the area such as Middlesex County Cricket Club, the Middlesex Cricket Board and Middlesex University. (The last two of these were formed some time after Middlesex was abolished as an administrative county.) There is a Middlesex County Football Association, and two teams that are now within Surrey, Staines Town and Ashford Town (Middlesex) as well as Potters Bar Town in Hertfordshire, compete in the Middlesex County Cup. Sir John Betjeman, a native of North London and Poet Laureate, published several poems about Middlesex and the suburban experience. Many were featured in the televised readings Metroland.

Dear Middlesex, dear vanished country friend,

Your neighbour, London, killed you in the end.

—Contrasts: Marble Arch to Edgware – A Lament, John Betjeman (1968)

As part of a 2002 marketing campaign, the plant conservation charity Plantlife chose the wood anemone as the county flower. In 2003, an early day motion with two signatures noted that 16 May is the anniversary of the Battle of Albuera and in recent years has been celebrated as "Middlesex Day", commemorating the valiant efforts of the Middlesex Regiment (the "Die-hards") in that battle. The idea is to recognise and celebrate the historic county. On its creation in 1965, Greater London was divided into five commission areas for the administration of justice. One was named "Middlesex" and consisted of the boroughs of Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Enfield, Haringey, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow. This was abolished on 1 July 2003. For genealogical research it was assigned Chapman code MDX, except for the City of London which was assigned code LND. The Royal Mail continues to designate the Surrey towns of Staines-upon-Thames, Sunbury-on-Thames and Ashford as Middlesex.

Former postal county

Middlesex (abbreviated Middx) was a former postal county. This was an element of postal addressing in routine use until 1996, intended to avoid confusion between post towns, and no longer required for the routing of the mail. The postal county did not match the boundaries of Middlesex because of the presence of the London postal district, which stretched into the county to include Tottenham, Willesden, Hornsey and Chiswick. Addresses in this area included "LONDON" but did not include a county. In 1965 Royal Mail retained the postal county because it would have been too costly to amend addresses throughout Greater London. Exceptionally, the Potters Bar post town was transferred to Hertfordshire. Geographically the postal county consisted of two unconnected areas, 6 miles (10 km) apart. These were the smaller area around Enfield and the larger area to the west. It comprised 25 post towns:

Postcode area Post towns
EN (part) ENFIELD; POTTERS BAR (until 1965)
HA EDGWARE, HARROW, NORTHWOOD, PINNER, RUISLIP, STANMORE, WEMBLEY
TW (part) ASHFORD, BRENTFORD, FELTHAM, HAMPTON, HOUNSLOW†, ISLEWORTH, SHEPPERTON, STAINES, SUNBURY-ON-THAMES, TEDDINGTON, TWICKENHAM†
UB GREENFORD, HAYES, NORTHOLT, SOUTHALL, UXBRIDGE, WEST DRAYTON

† = postal county was not required

The postal county had many border inconsistencies where its constituent post towns encroached on neighbouring counties, such as the villages of Denham in Buckinghamshire, Wraysbury in Berkshire and Eastbury in Hertfordshire which were respectively in the post towns of Uxbridge, Staines and Northwood and therefore in the postal county of Middlesex. Egham Hythe, Surrey also had postal addresses of Staines, Middlesex. Conversely, Hampton Wick was conveniently placed in Kingston, Surrey with its sorting offices just across the river. Nearby Hampton Court Palace has a postal address of East Molesey, therefore associating it with Surrey.

Middlesex former postal county
Middlesex former postal county

The Enfield post town in the EN postcode area was in the former postal county. All post towns in the HA postcode area and UB postcode area were in the former postal county. Most of the TW postcode area was in the former postal county.

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