THE INDUSTRIAL AGE
The era of stagecoaches came to an end in 1841 when Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway opened between London and Bristol. The fastest stage coaches had taken 11 hours to do the journey to Bristol, but the new steam trains could do the journey in just 4 hours – and the trains didn’t have to stop every twelve miles in order to change their tired horses! This had a devastating effect on the town of Hounslow. Travellers no longer needed to stop off in the area on their way to the west. The inns and markets of the town suffered greatly, leading to mass unemployment. It took twenty years for Hounslow to get back on its feet.
During Queen Victoria’s reign, Hounslow and Feltham were amongst London’s most important fruit and vegetable growing districts. In the 19th century, horse and cart transported most produce. In order to ensure that fruit and vegetables were fresh for the customer, farms needed to be within a cart ride away from the markets. In response to this new trade, the coaching inns of Hounslow High Street began to be replaced by shops. Platt’s Store was once a big Hounslow-based family business with grocer’s shops and hardware stores in towns and villages all over West Middlesex. Today, an Argos shop has replaced Platt’s Store, but you can still see the old Platt’s name, in relief, on the wall of the shop.
In 1850, Hounslow’s Waterloo line Railway Station opened and the town slowly began to expand. Large houses were built for city gentlemen and their families, who preferred to live in the country town of Hounslow and work in London. The age of the commuter had begun. The Victorian era was also innovative for education. For the first time ever, Elementary schooling for all children between the ages of 5 and 11 became compulsory and free of charge. Before this, parents used to have to pay for children to attend school and each child had to take a few pence to school every week to pay the teacher’s wages. In order to find work to support their families, some children left school at the age of 10. To get permission to leave school, a child had to show the School Headmaster (or Headmistress) that they had learned to read and that they knew the times-tables by heart.
In 1883, Hounslow’s second railway line – now the Piccadilly Underground railway – came to town. In the 19th century, the trains were steam locomotives but operated underground as well as over ground. The conditions were often unbearable. The smoke from the engine would fill the tunnels on the first Underground Railway between Paddington and Farringdon, making it difficult to breathe. However, the railways made travel to and from the city so convenient that Hounslow began to boom as a commuter town.
The Electric Motor was soon discovered and later used to power the underground trains. This discovery saw the end of steam trains in the tunnels beneath London, much to the relief of commuters! In 1901, Hounslow benefited from the introduction of an electric tram service from Hammersmith to Hounslow High Street. Originally the terminus was at the Bell Inn, but it was soon moved further westwards to the Hussar pub at Hounslow Heath to allow for the expansion of the town.