Mon 08 May 2017
The area of Acton was first recorded as a settlement in the Domesday book of 1086, and there is evidence of human activity before this in the form of relics of Stone Age worship, a Bronze Age cemetery and some artefacts from the Roman period. Up until the 17th century, Acton consisted of a small cluster of houses around St Mary's Church where Morrisons now stands, a small farming community at East Acton, and a scattering of farm dwellings across the surrounding countryside. Acton was a popular stop along the road from London to Oxford, and given the rudimentary state of the roads at the time, Acton was half a day's travel from central London by horse-drawn carriage so its inns and taverns offered welcome rest to travellers.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, like other areas of West London, the area became popular with wealthy City-dwellers seeking a country retreat. A mineral-bearing spring was discovered in North Acton, and a popular spa was built there to capitalise on the trend at the time for communal bathing in health-promoting mineral water. The spa was shortlived however, as spa towns around the UK proved more successful.
As the rail network expanded in the 19th century, London expanded outwards and the green fields of Acton were developed into suburban housing. Roads around Twyford Avenue, Churchfield Road and Acton Lane were built towards the end of the Victorian era, and subsequent expansion before the First World War included maisonettes around Valetta Road, larger family homes to the west of Old Oak Road and the garden suburb of small cottages which surrounds East Acton station.
The Goldsmiths Buildings in East Acton, now a carefully restored collection of smart Grade II* listed compact terraced cottages, was built by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths as almshouses for its retired workers. The houses are set in walled gardens of 1.4 acres and are recognised by English Heritage as having some of the most beautiful architectural features in London.
In recent years the South Acton area has been synonymous with poor standards of living. Fortunately this is now changing, but before the South Acton council estate was built in the 1960s, the area was a densely-populated network of Victorian slums with similar characteristics. There was a strong demand from the grand households of Notting Hill, Kensington, Acton and Chiswick for laundry services, and as such over 600 laundry businesses were established in the South Acton which was the main source of employment for the local working class people. Following the Second World War, when domestic washing machines became a common addition to standard homes, the laundry industry in South Acton declined and the narrow streets of small houses were demolished to be replaced with large tower blocks of flats for council tenants. Towards the end of the 20th century this style of living fell out of favour, and the area was the scene of antisocial behaviour and social decline. Rebranded as Acton Gardens, the old blocks have been razed to the ground and mixed-tenure houses and low-rise apartments are being built in their place amid landscaped grounds.
North Acton was the largest industrial area in the south of England in the interwar period. It was home to many small factories, including the Elizabeth Arden perfumery and John Compton Organ Works which built organs for churches, theatres and cinemas. The majority of local workers, however, were employed in the motor trade, making parts for buses, aircraft and cars.
The widely-spaced network of residential streets in West Acton were built in 1920s for railwaymen working to expand the rail network across West London. Set around a large green and served by a small range of neighbourhood shops, these houses were originally sold for around £800. Nowadays they are worth a thousand times that figure!
You can rent a two bedroom flat close to Acton mainline station, which will serve the Elizabeth Line from 2019, for £2,000 per month, and you can buy a modern three bedroom townhouse close to Acton Town, another of Acton's seven stations, for just under £900,000.