A Road By Any Other Name

The road that runs north to south through the western side of Ruislip enters the parish just below Batchworth Heath, actually at the Hertfordshire/Middlesex county boundary which is marked by a Coal Tax Post, as well as a London Borough of Hillingdon sign. At this point it is named Rickmansworth Road, but shortly turns into Ducks Hill Road, joining Bury Street at Cannons Bridge. At the bottom of the hill it becomes Ruislip High Street, until it changes its name again at Ruislip Station, becoming West End Road. It finally leaves the parish at Down Barnes, where Sharvel Lane crosses the road. The lane, a track much damaged by heavy vehicles dumping refuse, is an important and very old boundary, marking the division of the parishes of Ruislip and Ickenham from Northolt and Hayes. Nowadays it also divides the Boroughs of Hillingdon and Ealing. Should you walk towards the Shooting Grounds you will find the modern farmhouse of Down Barnes and an interesting medieval moated site (much overgrown) that once belonged to Roger de la Dune, Constable of the Tower of London.

This ancient north-south route is full of historical allusions and parts of it have borne different names over the centuries. The hilly part of Rickmansworth Road was formerly Kewferry Hill. Kewferry is probably derived from the name of John de Kevere, who had dealings with the Abbey of Bec over property in Northwood in the 1290s. The central portion of Bury Street was called Silver Street Green in the 16th century. Several listed timber-framed buildings stand there, almost hidden by modern houses that have been built on land that formerly belonged to them- The Plough (Miller & Carter), Woodman Farm, The Berries, Bury Street Farm and Little Manor Farm that is set back within the boundary of St Catherine’s Manor.

Duty had been payable on coal brought into London from medieval times. After the Great Fire in 1666, the proceeds went towards rebuilding the City. The boundary at which the tax had to be paid changed from time to time. In 1845, it was a 20-mile radius around the General Post Office in St Martin’s Le Grand and finally in 1861, the Metropolitan Police District was chosen. This accounts for the post in Rickmansworth Road which simply marks the tax area and was not a collection point. There are several other posts on the boundary in Northwood, including one in the grounds of St Martin’s School and a somewhat rusted pyramidal one – the type designed for railways – on the side of the Metropolitan Railway line by the footbridge in Eastbury Road.

When I first came to Ruislip I assumed that Ducks Hill and also Drakes Hill in Breakspear Road North were named after birds. Having asked a silly question at a meeting of the RNELHS, I was kindly corrected and told that both were family names. I have since read the 1679 will of John Duck, tilemaker, who had a tilekiln in St Catherine’s Manor not far from the bottom of the hill named after his family.

Cannons Bridge carries the road across the stream that was damned in 1810 to form Ruislip Reservoir. There have been cottages there since the 13th century and the much enlarged and modernised Cannonsbridge Farm remains. From 1393 to 1983, Ruislip Vicarage was on the north side of the River Pinn. The hill rising from the river was known as Packe Hill at one time, after Christopher Packe, Ruislip’s longest serving vicar 1834-78.

The term, High Street, only referred to the end by the entrance to Manor Farm as far as Ickenham Road. This applied as late as the 1930s, when the address of the Westminster Bank (now NatWest) was West End Road, which led to West End in Northolt, hence the name. The first six shops near the traffic lights on the east side of the road were called Station Parade, when built in 1911.

West End Road provided a route through the common fields of Ruislip. Apart from the bend at Field End, it is now fairly straight as various small watercourses have disappeared underground. It crosses the Yeading Brook twice, at White Butts (around Ruislip Gardens Station) and again near the Polish War Memorial. White Butts Bridge was a trysting place where Americans and White Russians who were stationed at Northolt Aerodrome in 1917 used to meet Ruislip girls for a chat. Only the Americans were invited home for tea!*

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