Although there are claims of both Iron Age and Roman finds in the Acton Green area, the first event of major interest was the Civil War battle of Turnham Green in 1642, which was fought over much of the Chiswick and Brentford area.
Acton Green became increasingly popular in the early 19th Century due its proximity to Chiswick High Road (the main road leading westwards out of London), and several large houses such as Fairlawn House, Bedford House and The Elms were built in the area which was then predominantly concerned with market gardening. The small hamlet of Acton Green was connected to Acton by a cart way along the edge of Southfield and Church Path follows the old route linking Acton Green to St. Mary’s church in Acton.
By the time the District Railway arrived in 1879, developers had bought much of the surrounding land from the Rothschilds, owners of nearby Gunnersbury Park, and had built terraces of neat, two-storey, working-class houses. To supplement their husbands’ income, many of the women took in washing, often done by hand, and by 1899 there were about 180 laundries of all sizes, giving the area the name “Soapsud Island”.
The 1881 census has details of one household where 18 people lived in one tiny four-bedroom house. Much of the laundry came by cart from the more affluent areas of West London such as Kensington and Notting Hill.
By the time of World War II the number of laundries had fallen to about 70, and today there are none left. However, the arched carriage entrances and dropped kerbs of many houses remain as a reminder of a bygone age.
Other industries, some to support the laundries, were also generated: hand-woven baskets and hampers were made in Antrobus Road; mangles, wringers, washing machines and tubs were made in Bollo Bridge Road. Light engineering industries and workshops also developed, the largest of which was the Evershed & Vignoles factory (now luxury flats), by the 94 bus stop, which produced radar equipment for planes and tanks in World War II.
There were once many shops in Cunnington Street & Kingswood Road – off-licences, fish & chip shop, grocers, confectioners – but today only one survives. There were also several schools in the area, but these have now all closed and the land in some cases sold for redevelopment. Acton Green Church started out as a mission for railway workers at the turn of the 20th Century.
Two centuries ago, Acton Green was a small hamlet surrounded by agricultural land, and favoured for its access to London; less than a century ago it had become a lively area with industry, commerce, schools, churches and community centres. Today most of those have gone and the area is once again a desirable residential area, favoured for its transport links to London and the west.
Picture 1 – Fish shop on Cunnington Street ran by W. Hoad between 1908 & 1940
Picture 2 – Kent Road after the dropping of a bomb in World War II
Picture 3 – Fairlawn Park tennis courts, now replaced by houses and flats