Cowley, Hillingdon

A ribbon development along the road from Uxbridge to Yiewsley, parallel with the Grand Union Canal to its west

Cowley - Malt Shovel - geograph-4343281-by-Mark-Percy

Cow­ley was first record­ed in the tenth cen­tu­ry as Cofen­lea, ‘the wood­land clear­ing of a man called Cofa’.

Shown in the pho­to below, the twelfth-cen­tu­ry church of St Lau­rence was the small­est parish church in Mid­dle­sex and remains unen­larged today. St Lau­rence’s parish used to cov­er a very irreg­u­lar 300 acres, “mixed up with Hilling­don in such a way as defies descrip­tion.” For this rea­son, the medieval his­to­ry of Cow­ley is so inter­twined with that of Hilling­don as to have made the two indis­tin­guish­able at times.

Hidden London: St Laurence church, a scanned photograph, taken c.2000

Hous­es and cot­tages lined the High Street in the 17th and ear­ly 18th cen­turies, includ­ing Vine Cot­tage, the Crown inn, Maygood’s Farm, Poplar Cot­tage and Cow­ley House. A sur­pris­ing num­ber of these ear­ly prop­er­ties have sur­vived to the present day, although often much altered.

In the 18th cen­tu­ry the north­ern part of Cow­ley con­sist­ed almost entire­ly of over 300 acres of open space called Cow­ley Field. The own­er­ship of the field was split between the manors of Cow­ley, Cow­ley Hall and Col­ham (see Col­ham Green). Cow­ley Field was enclosed in 1795, when the Grand Junc­tion (lat­er Grand Union) Canal was being built on its west­ern side.

The arrival of the rail­way at West Dray­ton in 1838 brought lim­it­ed growth to the vil­lage, not in the form of sub­ur­ban hous­ing but by stim­u­lat­ing the devel­op­ment of the hor­ti­cul­tur­al indus­try, which could rapid­ly deliv­er fresh flow­ers to Covent Gar­den and Spi­tal­fields. Cot­tages were built for labour­ers who worked in the green­hous­es and also at the exten­sive brick­fields near­by.

It was not until the 1890s that devel­op­ers began to build estates of afford­able hous­ing, espe­cial­ly after the open­ing of a branch line and sta­tion in 1904, and the vil­lage merged with the hith­er­to sep­a­rate set­tle­ment at Cow­ley Peachey. The pri­vate builders were joined in their endeav­ours by the coun­cil after the First World War.

Despite these projects, many acres stretch­ing towards Pield Heath remained under cul­ti­va­tion until after the Sec­ond World War.

In the 20 years from 1945 the coun­cil built hun­dreds more homes at Cow­ley, many occu­pied by work­ers at the fac­to­ries of Cow­ley Bridge, where a busi­ness park still oper­ates.

Cow­ley sta­tion closed in 1962, as did the rail­way line. Much of the High Street was rebuilt lat­er in the 20th cen­tu­ry, includ­ing with unpre­pos­sess­ing office blocks.

‘One of the true British poets of the last half-century lived in Cowley,’ said Iain Sinclair of Bill Griffiths, who later exiled himself to north-east England. He died in 2007.

Postcode area: Uxbridge UB8
Further reading: C Cotton, Uxbridge, Hillingdon and Cowley, Sutton, 1995
* The picture of the Malt Shovel on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Mark Percy, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.