Historical towns and rivers

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The road from London to Oxford is a very ancient and important route. The town of Uxbridge grew up as a daughter settlement of the village of Hillingdon, along the road where it crossed the River Colne.

Uxbridge is not mentioned by name in the Domesday survey of 1086. It is probably included with the entries for Hillingdon and Colham and the name 'Uxbridge' probably means the 'bridge belonging to the Wixan'. The Wixan were a Saxon tribe; the bridge over the River Colne was the boundary of their territory.

Middle Ages

Throughout the Middle Ages, Uxbridge formed part of the manor of Colham, which was in turn part of the Honor of Wallingford in Berkshire. About 1180, Gilbert Basset, keeper of the Honor, granted the people of Uxbridge permission to hold a market every Thursday. By 1248, the town was large and prosperous enough to build itself a chapel dedicated to St Margaret. All major church services - baptisms, weddings and burials - were still held in Hillingdon Church. Between 1400 and 1450, the chapel was enlarged and a tower added. In 1575, the people of Uxbridge were allowed their own burial ground on land at the bottom of the Lynch (Windsor Street) given by the Earl of Derby (then, Lord of the Manor). This was enlarged in 1776 and finally closed in 1855.

16th century

Until the 19th century, the prosperity of Uxbridge depended on its market. It was the major corn market for west Middlesex and south Buckinghamshire and was a very important flour milling centre, with about 13 mills along the Colne and Frays rivers. In 1561, the importance of the market was recognised by the erection of a market house, replacing an earlier one, close to the present site. During this time, the town grew, fine houses were built around the town. In 1555, five men (not from Uxbridge) were burned at the stake on Lynch Green for their Protestant beliefs.

17th century

The 17th century was marked by conflict. From 1630 to 1633, the townsfolk were in dispute with the Countess of Derby over the payment of market tolls. This was finally resolved and the occasion marked with a banquet. A painting of this can be seen in Uxbridge Library. During the Civil War, Uxbridge was an important garrison for Parliamentary troops. In 1644, an attempt at a peace treaty was negotiated in Uxbridge. The negotiations were held in Place House (now, the Crown and Treaty public house).

18th century

Throughout the 18th century, the market and town prospered. Equally important was the coaching trade. At the end of the century, up to 40 stage coaches a day passed through the town, all stopping to change horses, plus all the private traffic. There were more than 50 inns and ale houses to cater for this traffic and four breweries to supply them. The town was so congested that in 1785 the High Street was widened and improved. The Market House was demolished and rebuilt in 1789. Between 1798 and 1805, the Grand Junction Canal was opened, which greatly increased the trade through Uxbridge.

19th century

During the 19th century, the importance of the agricultural market declined and other industries replaced it. Brickmaking around Cowley was especially important. Other industries also increased and led to building development around the town. The coaching trade declined rapidly after the opening of the Great Western Railway station at West Drayton in 1838. Uxbridge was not connected to the main line until 1854, and then only by a branch line. During this century, Uxbridge itself was slow to change; it remained a sleepy market town.

20th century

The 20th century saw rapid change. The Metropolitan Railway reached Uxbridge in 1904, as did the trams. High Street Station - a branch to the Great Central Railway - opened in 1907 but closed to passenger transport in 1939. In 1918, the Royal Flying Corps (soon to be the Royal Air Force) moved into Hillingdon House. Initially the gunnery school, it soon became the main recruitment base. From here, the Battle of Britain was directed in 1940. In 1948, the camp was used to house many of the athletes for the London Olympic Games. In 1908, the Olympic marathon race came through Uxbridge, as did the torch in 1948. Many houses, schools, cinemas and churches were built, particularly between 1920 and 1939. In the early 1960s, plans were made to modernise the old town centre. Parts of this were completed in 1973 with the opening of the shopping centre. This was refurbished in 1985 as the Pavilions Shopping Centre. In 1955, the Uxbridge Urban District Council was granted Borough status; the charter was presented by the Duchess of Kent. In 1965, the Borough of Uxbridge joined with three neighbouring councils (Ruislip-Northwood, Hayes and Harlington, and Yiewsley and West Drayton Urban Districts) to form the London Borough of Hillingdon. The first students arrived at Brunel University in 1965. Formed by an amalgamation of several colleges, it was built on the site of Lowe and Shawyer's nursery in Kingston Lane. The Civic Centre opened in 1979.

21st century

The early years of the century have seen the town continue to change. The Chimes Shopping Centre (renamed intu in 2013) opened in 2001. Bakers Road and the bus station were remodelled, with a Travelodge replacing the government offices of Colham House. In 2002, as part of her Golden Jubilee tour, HM the Queen visited Uxbridge and unveiled the statue 'Anticipation' outside the station. She visited again in 2012 for her diamond Jubilee. Also in 2012, the Olympic torch came through the town. In 2010, the RAF camp was closed with many of its functions transferring to Northolt aerodrome.

Uxbridge continues to change but remains a vibrant town for working, shopping and entertainment. 

Further reading on Uxbridge

  • COTTON, C Uxbridge Past. 1995.
  • HEARMON, C Uxbridge; a concise history. 1982.
  • PEARCE, K.R. A short history of the Town of Uxbridge. 1970.
  • REDFORD & RICHES History of Uxbridge. 1818, reprinted 1885.
  • VICTORIA COUNTY HISTORY; Middlesex, vol. 4, pp 55-100.

Frays River

The origin of the name is unknown. There is one theory that the Frays River began when a tree falling across the Colne deflected a branch of the river away from its natural and persistent channel. What seems more likely is that it is a man-made diversion of the River Colne, created to power mills in the Uxbridge area. It is also sometimes known as the Uxbridge and Cowley Mill Stream, the Cowley Stream or Colham Mill Stream.

John Fray was Baron Lord Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 15th century. He had considerable experience of rivers and mills, having the commission to maintain navigation of the River Lea for about 20 years between around 1430 and 1440. As well as owning watermills in Essex, he had interests in many pieces of land across the country, which included a financial interest in Cowley Hall - a property in Hillingdon, which adjoins the Frays River. It is possible that the Frays River was originally a separate tributary rising in Harefield and that John Fray arranged for a cutting of a link from the Colne to this tributary to supply it with a portion of water from the larger river. The  Frays River is fed by the River Colne at a weir near Denham Lock. It runs parallel to the Colne for around four miles before rejoining it south of West Drayton.

It has also been said that the Frays was made in the 17th century at the wish of the Lord of the Manor to serve the needs of his domain.

When the Grand Junction Canal was constructed from 1793 onwards, Frays River had some influence on the layout.

By 1641, Frays River powered at least five mills and continued to power four mills until the 19th century. The last mill - Uxbridge Town Mill or Fountain's Mill - was in operation until after the Second World War.

Further reading on Frays River

  • WATERS, B. Thirteen rivers to the Thames.
  • The Uxbridge Record, No. 71, Autumn 1998.
  • Victoria County History, volume 4.
Page last updated: 22 May 2023