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Middlesex


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Was one of the smallest, oldest, and strangest of counties. In Roman times it formed part of the territory of the Trinovantes and their competitors the Cassivellauni. Very soon after the Roman arrival, Londinium developed as by far the largest town and this dictated the subsequent history of the area. That part of the territory which survived as Middlesex was probably too small to sustain an independent kingdom, unlike Sussex, Essex, and Wessex. But the existence of Surrey (the south land) suggests a brief Middle Saxon kingdom straddling the Thames. By the 6th cent. the area seems to have formed a province of Essex, and by the 8th it had been taken over by Mercia. In the later 9th cent., after the struggle between Alfred and the Danes, the region became part of Wessex. By then it was a recognized shire.

The development of Middlesex as a county was stunted by the influence of London. It fell naturally into the diocese of London, founded in 604. In the 12th cent. the city of London was given the right to appoint the sheriff of Middlesex and the assizes were held at the Old Bailey. The influence of London was so overwhelming that few Middlesex towns grew to any size. Economically too, the shire was totally dependent upon London, and from an early period became a scene of market gardens and gentlemen's parks, of which Hampton Court (royal), Sion House (Northumberland), Osterley (Child), and Cannons (Chandos) were the most celebrated.

By 1700, London had half a million inhabitants, by 1800 nearly a million. At that time the largest towns in the shire were Enfield with 6,000 people and Isleworth with 4,000, Uxbridge 2,100, Hendon 1,900, Staines 1,700, and Brentford 1,400.

The political absorption of the county by London gathered pace in the 19th cent. In 1888 a considerable portion of south‐east Middlesex, including Highbury, Hampstead, and Hammersmith, was sliced off to form part of the new county of London. In 1965, in another reorganization, Middlesex disappeared altogether, most going to Greater London.

Subjects: British History.


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