Diamond Geezer Challenge 3: Uxbridge

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Diamond Geezer: “Some so-called London websites never write about Uxbridge, Barking and Penge because their remit is geographically blinkered.” It is claimed London blogs rarely feature some of these places? I would like to correct this and write about Barking, Penge and Uxbridge on my blog.

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As a matter of fact I’ve written about these places before so here they are again, with different topics this time!

I wondered what could be written for this third installment that covers Uxbridge. Ultimately I chose its mills and the civil war as my subjects. These are all very conveniently placed at the bottom of the town centre right where the rivers and canals pass through. Uxbridge is a very substantial London town, but some bits of it are in Buckinghamshire and this goes by the name of New Denham. To me its all still Uxbridge!

Mills have existed in Uxbridge for centuries. There are two mills that can still be seen (well one actually, the other, not so easily.) To facilitate these water is of course needed and waterways were once an important part of the area. The Frays River is mainly artificial waterway built to power local watermills, at one time it served five of these. The Frays runs at a higher elevation than the Colne for most of its course. John Leland, the 16th Century poet & historian, gives the impression the Frays becomes a totally separate river however it does reconnect with the Colne at West Drayton.

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Fountains Mill. The car park on the right may have been where a wharf once stood.

Fountains Flour Mill is the first place on our tour, its found almost at the bottom of the hill down from the town centre. The building nowadays is a community centre and was largely rebuilt after a fire in the 1950s and worked for a few more years after. Traces of its former past can be seen in the arched window on High Street. I think this was once an open arch and where the waterwheel would have been. The Frays River passes right underneath the building, emerging very briefly into the open on the south side before tunnelling under the dual carriageway that is the town’s perimeter road.

Fountains was also known as Frays or Town Mill. It has existed since the 13th Century and earlier buildings too suffered fires. That on 2 April 1796 destroyed the building completely. Although it relied on waterpower for centuries, in the 20th C that was relegated to powering a few utilities whilst a steam engine was employed to drive the main mill.

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Apparently Fountains Mill had its own branch off the canal. This served Crown Wharf, Buckingham Wharf before Fountains Mill as shown on this 1899 map of the locality.

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Almost opposite Fountains Mill is the Crown and Treaty. This, on Oxford Road, is where the English Civil War comes in. Parts of the pub once formed a large mansion known as Place House, where in early 1645, King Charles I’s commissioners sat with their opponents, the Roundheads, to agree a treaty that would hopefully end three years of civil war.

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The Treaty House in its original state. Its gate house is on the left. The view looks south.

This was known as the Treaty of Uxbridge. Alas, it was not beneficial to the king. It didnt stop the civil war. Not only that Charles I progressively lost his powers, his armies and loyal supporters as Oliver Cromwell took command of the country. Ultimately Cromwell deposed of Charles I by having him executed.

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This from c1818 shows the Crown Inn, the Swan Inn, a boat on the canal and High Bridge.

It is said Place House was owned by Sir John Bennett. That is indeed right however the last of the Bennetts, Lady Leonora, had died in 1638 and the time of the treaty the house belonged to a Mr Carr. Sadly with regard to the claims Charles I had held session here, had slept here and in fact had a bedroom named after him, records show he never came here. It was his commissioners who attended, one of whom was Sir Edward Hyde, later Earl Clarendon.

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After those tumultuous days of the civil war Place House became a lodging house, and eventually a coaching inn. By the late 18th Century alterations had been made and it became known as The Crown Inn. By the 1870s it had become the Crown and Treaty, and still retains internal panelling said to have existed at the time of the treaty. The pub’s signs denote the treaty as show below:

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If one looks carefully at the building much of the lower half is a old type of brickwork, about one and half inches thick, I assume its Tudor brick, thus revealing the building’s age. The splendid chimneys (also of the old style of brickwork) at the rear must be from the original building as it was in the 17th Century, perhaps otherwise having been rebuilt or modified.

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The splendid chimneys at the rear of the Crown and Treaty.

Past the Crown and Treaty was pretty much the countryside at one time in the 17th Century with just a mill here and there. The next place of major importance was practically Oxford, probably a day’s ride on a horse, and this is why the road is so named.

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The old and new date stones on the canal bridge.

Walking further west one comes to the Grand Union Canal. Its bridge can be seen in the 1818 picture of the Crown Inn. This was replaced in 1938 by the present structure, and they took care to reuse the old date stone along with a modern one. Immediately beyond is the Swan, which is the other inn seen on the picture from 1818. Its very popular especially at evenings and weekends.

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High Bridge looking in the direction of Greater London/Uxbridge. The other way is Buckinghamshire.

The next bridge is High Bridge, sometimes known as Denham High Bridge, and crosses the rather wide River Colne. It too was rebuilt in 1938. Here’s a photograph. As the text says this is the bridge from where Uxbridge got its name – eg Wixan’s bridge. The old version can be seen in the 1818 drawing above. Its also the border between Uxbridge/Greater London and Buckinghamshire. We are technically in the country although there is the sense this is indeed still London.

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The scene that greets one as they cross High Bridge from London in to Buckinghamshire.

The wide expanse of water to the north of the bridge is the meeting of two watercourses both belonging to the Colne. Actually the Colne once came from the right, that was its former course and this now forms the boundary between Uxbridge and Bucks. The river also comes from the left, this being the artificial course that was necessary to power the mills hereabouts. The two water courses forms an island which has a sculpture on it accessible only from the private Denham Lodge block of flats. Previously a splendid lodge stood here that had been built by Henry Mercer, one of the owners of the nearby Allied Mills.

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Old Mill House, said to have been built circa 1411.

On the left as one goes up Willow Avenue is Old Mill House. The date on the building is not easy to see but seems to be c1411. Uxbridge has several Old Mill Houses which reflect the numerous mills around the area. I’m not sure of the history behind this particular one, however the 1899 OS map indicates Denham Road Mill immediately behind so it must have been linked with that.

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Further up Willow Avenue is another tributary of the Colne. If one looks behind the parapet its clear there are two bridges in one, one of the arches forms what seems to be a tunnel. By this spot is the entrance to King’s Island. This is private property. However if you ask the concierge at the entrance nicely it should be possible to see a good view of the Allied Mills from the adjacent bridge.

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The Allied Mills – now a private residency.

Though we cant see more of the Allied Mills, there are some fleeting glimpses of it from the canal towpath. The present mills were built in 1836, quite a few years after the canal arrived. The mills were originally known as the William King Flour Mill, also as Denham (New) Mill and Abbotts Mill, and in later times became known as the Allied Mills, before finally shut down in  2001.

Even though the canal is an artificial waterway, most of it south of Watford utilises the Rivers Gade, Colne, and others. Conversely because of the mill’s proximity, the canal builders used part of the head race as it approaches Uxbridge Lock. The Colne’s original course can still be seen traced across the fields to the east and its this that forms the boundary between London and Buckinghamshire.

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The Grand Union Canal at Uxbridge Lock.

If one wants to spend a bit extra time in the area, its well worth walking along the canal as far as Denham Lock. There’s a cafe on busy weekends in the summer with a view of the aqueduct immediately north of the lock.

The other posts in this series:

No 1: Barking

No 2: Penge

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