Thu 20 Oct 2016
Eight miles west of Charing Cross, Brentford is the first non-London postcode that you reach as you head out of London towards Surrey. Residents of Brentford particularly love the Thames-side location, the road and rail links and the handy proximity to Kew Gardens, Heathrow Airport and employers along The Golden Mile.
The name Brentford has, rather unusually, quite a simple origin. It is named after a ford across the River Brent where the bridge is today between the Six Bells pub and the Holiday Inn. It is thought that Julius Caesar crossed this ford in 54 BC during his invasion of Britain. In fact, outside Brentford Magistrates Court stands a pink granite monument to a battle Caesar fought on this site, although there is no firm proof of Caesar’s presence in the area. Artefacts of pottery and flint have been found which suggest that Bronze Age tribes are likely to have convened where the Brentford Dock estate and marina now stand.
In the 17th century the population of Brentford doubled in size as the traffic on both the road and the river increased. It’s hard to believe it today, but the majority of housing at the time was situated between the High Street and the river, more or less where The Ham stands today, with only larger houses built to the north of the thoroughfare. In the 1700s the large houses in The Butts were built and are still standing today, although the road is less busy now than when it used to be a well-used route down to the bustling Market Place.
There were so many green spaces and orchards in 1794 Brentford that the town was considered 'almost a garden', however it was also described as the 'ugliest and filthiest place in England' by those who drove through the muddy, dusty High Street without seeing the residential streets behind.
Industry in Brentford developed at such a rate that the houses between the High Street and river were demolished in the early 19th century to make way for the growing distilleries, breweries, maltings, soap works, water works and gas works. As these industries were outsourced abroad and river and canal traffic fell considerably, the buildings were left derelict.
For the many workers in the industrial riverside area, crowded slums were built which contributed to Brentford becoming one of the poorest areas of London. Drunkards, malnourished children and immoral behaviour were cited as some of Brentford’s main social problems in the 1860s, and a lack of sewerage systems contributed to difficult living conditions. Between the late 19th century and the 1920s, the arrival of the tram and post-WWI development sparked the demolition of many slums. Homes for the families displaced by slum clearance were built between the A4, Whitestile Road and Clayponds Lane, and later on towards Syon Lane in the area known as Brentford End.
The first of Brentford’s formidable riverside redevelopments was at Brentford Dock in the mid-1970s, where the old dock became a marina and the warehouses were replaced by flats. The flats were originally intended to be used as social housing but the setting was so attractive that the majority were instead sold privately. The bridge where Augustus Close crosses The Ham was originally used to carry a rail line between the docks and Southall.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Green Dragon Lane estate was built on land where a Victorian workhouse once stood although more recently the site held reservoirs serving the local water works. This estate brought much needed modern living spaces for local people, and prompted the gentrification of the dilapidated older properties on the other side of Ealing Road around Brook Road South.
The next major redevelopment did not take place until after the millennium, which shows how Brentford was not seen as a desirable place to live because of all its disused industrial areas. That development was Ferry Quays, sited near where a ferry used to transport passengers between Brentford and Kew right up until 1939. The construction of Ferry Quays in 2002 marked the start of high quality modern housing being built in the area, with its concierge, underground parking, penthouses and broad public spaces by the river. Holland Gardens, once the site of Brentford’s gas works, and the Brentford Lock development on a canalside brownfield site were built at a similar time and brought many new residents to the area. Finally, where non-descript office blocks once bordered Kew Bridge, now magnificent apartment blocks proudly stand, with handsome price tags to match the properties’ proximity to Kew and Chiswick.
Much of the attraction of Brentford as a place to live now comes from the investment in the area in the 1920s and 1930s. The Golden Mile, once a stretch of the Great West Road between Chiswick and Isleworth between open fields, became home to large factories attracted to the low cost of land on the edge of London. Here is where Gillette razors, Firestone tyres, Macleans pharmaceuticals and many more goods were produced for years until the 1980s and 1990s when advances in technology and cheap labour costs overseas signalled the end for the UK bases of these industries. Since then, offices have been built in the factories’ place and now employ around 25,000 professionals in some 200 companies, including GSK, Sky and Worley Parsons. One of these factories, Wallis House, hosted the production of aeroplane parts and pharmaceuticals during its industrial life, and is now the keystone of a large housing development built between 2005 and 2015.
You can take up residence in one of Brentford’s few historic and characterful houses, such as a two bedroom mid-Victorian cottage in New Road for £1,625pcm, or invest one of the many luxury riverside apartments, such as Malt House Court on the High Street, available for £575,000.