Brentford Chamber History
The following is a historical account of Brentford's industry and Chamber, written by local historian Janet McNamara.
The chains of office of the President and Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce both have an enamelled badge that has a picture of cranes, warehouses, water, boats, crates, train lines and a steam engine. The secretary's badge shows 1920 at the bottom and the President's 1932. These pictures give a snapshot of the town of Brentford at the time the Chamber was formed. Apart from the gasworks and the waterworks the main industries were mostly involved with transport of goods by road, rail and river. The High Street was the main road to the south west from London. It was narrow and lined with shops and there were roads running north to Ealing and Hanwell.
The road in places was extremely narrow and it was muddy in the winter and dusty in the summer. The 'History of the Great West Road' book shows that there has been constant problems in Brentford through the bottlenecks from 1670. One paragraph says:
"That ye two Bridges, ye one in ye middle of ye town and ye other at ye end thereof be made wider than now they are, for ye foot passengers to go over with safety, or els that a footway be made, we being credibly informed that divers passengers have fallen over ye said Bridges."
The industries depicted on the badges were active but major changes took place in the town between the twelve years shown on the chains.
Historically Brentford was administered by three different parishes and each area operated separately. Old Brentford had been part of Ealing, New Brentford of Hanwell and Brentford End of Isleworth. All that connected them was the road thus there was no specific town centre apart from the Market Place.
On the amalgamation of the three areas in 1874 the whole town was administered by the Brentford Local Board. This was replaced by Brentford Urban District Council in 1894 and in 1927 the Council was amalgamated to form the Brentford and Chiswick Urban District Council. This became a Municipal Borough in 1932 and that meant that it had its own mayor and aldermen.
As well as administrative changes there were also major physical changes between 1920 and 1932.
The High Street had been the main route out of London to the south west from Roman times always with the interests of through traffic at odds with local traffic but with many people locally making a living from the travellers. A by-pass to the town had been suggested before Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 but this was not a popular idea with business people who made their living from catering for travellers and it was thought there would be a reduction in the value of property. With the coming of the trams in 1901 though delays of traffic became a major disruption to trade. The Middlesex County Council passed plans for a main road to be built to pass to the north but these were put on hold by the years of the First World War.
The building of the Great West Road then provided work for returning service men and was opened in June 1925 by King George V and Queen Mary.
With the opening of the road came many national and international companies attracted by the improvement in transport links and the use of cheap electricity when previously all industry had been dependent on coal and steam.
In the late 19th and early 20th century there are references in the press to the Brentford Tradesmen and Ratepayers Association. In 1903 it was reported that they were discussing the possibility of widening the High Street but after the First World War interest and support of the group had waned. This led in February 1920 to a Mr Edwin J Clarke, a bootmaker, of 202, High Street calling a meeting of interested parties with a view to setting up a local Chamber of Commerce.
The County of Middlesex Independent newspaper reported on 25th February that it had been a 'very enthusiastic' meeting and that over 100 tradesmen had agreed to join. These represented the trades of butchers, provision merchants, electricians, wines and spirits, tailors, gentlemen's outfitters, chemists, hairdressers, fishmongers, tobacconists, greengrocers, jewellers and watchmakers, boot dealers, drapers and others. Mr Griffith of Griffiths Bros, Clothiers, 125, High Street agreed to become the honorary secretary and the first meeting was held at the Red Lion, New Brentford on Tuesday 9th March 1920.
Mr Clarke, presiding over this meeting said that the formation of a Chamber of Commerce marked 'a new era for Brentford and a most pleasing sign was the unity and good feeling that prevailed amongst the traders'. He continue by saying that in the past they had not been treated any too kindly by the local governing body, and had generally been much misrepresented to the public. The aim of the Chamber would be to establish a close confidence between the shopper and the trader, to endeavour to enhance the prestige of the town, and to firmly insist that the Council give more assistance in the work of reconstruction.
After a talk by Mr Charlton E Morgan about the advantages of a Chamber of Commerce a provisional committee was appointed with instructions to draw up standing orders and draft rules for the future conduct of the Chamber and an annual subscription of 10/6d was agreed.
The monthly meetings at the Red Lion, New Brentford were regularly reported in the local newspapers. The Chiswick Times on 23 April 1920 had the headline BRENTFORD AND THE TRAMS and goes on to say 'The newly formed Brentford Chamber of Commerce opened its career with a zeal which promises that it will be a vital force'. There had been complaints about the state of disrepair of the tram tracks and the newspaper pointed out that the District Council had got nowhere with their complaints but thought that the Chamber would be putting added pressure on the tramway company.
On 14 May 1920 it was reported that the Chamber was in disagreement with the District Council who had bought Carville Hall Park as a War Memorial. They thought that a hospital would be a better memorial but it was pointed out that this this would only be used by a minority of people but that a recreation ground could be used by everyone. The Chamber pointed out that they had been formed since the park scheme had been launched but the newspaper reports that the District Council only made up its mind after the views of the 'leading folk' in the town had been heard. It would seem they assumed that the Chamber was made up of 'leading folk' of the town. It was also thought that by that point the Middlesex County Council would be unlikely to release it from its contract.
The correspondence on this subject continued for many months in the Middlesex Independent through 1920 and 1921.
The report of the Works Committee of the District Council the following week shows the start of a subject that seems to have featured regularly in Chamber business ever since - the state of the High Street.
A letter from the Chamber to the District Council who met at Clifden House had complained about 'the lax method of the police in dealing with the traffic in the High Street; the manner in which the repairs to the tramway track are undertaken; the lighting in the street; and the cleaning of the street'.
The Council's reply pointed out that they had no jurisdiction over the police methods of dealing with the traffic; that the repairs to the tramway track had been subject to repeated negotiation with the company; that the lighting had been restored to the normal pre-war lighting and that the Council did not see their way clear to make any addition. Regarding street cleaning this apparently was normally completed by 9am but due to delays in the tram crossover repairs the re-paving could not be finished so that in bad weather further cleaning had had to be done after 9am. Once all the repairs were complete this would not be necessary.
The first Annual Dinner was held in February 1921 at the Star and Garter Hotel, Kew Bridge. Over 100 people sat down to dinner including many wives of members. This was thought later to be a successful innovation as the ladies 'were critics, and it was gratifying to think that they were very pleased with the proceedings'.
The menu was
Boiled Turbot Lobster Sauce
Roast Beef or Boiled Leg of Mutton
Boiled and Baked Potatoes
Greens in Season
Trifle or Apple Tart
The local MP, Colonel W Grant Morgan sent a telegram that was read out at the start of the dinner apologising for his absence as he was detained at the House of Commons.
A week later the Annual General Meeting was held at the usual venue of The Red Lion.
Mr Edwin J Clarke presided with Mr J Dinnis as vice chairman and Alderman Forrester Clayton JP, Mr James Clements JP, CC, Mr WH Mills CC and Mr W. Griffith (secretary) as well as 'other members' Messrs F.F. Poole, A.E. Moore, L. Martin, B. Brown, W.J. Bolton, E. Sladden, A.J. Waldron, T. Bovingdon, F.H. Poole, W. Marlow, A. Lodge, W.N. Goose, C. Woolgar, A.Pearce, T.W. Pennington, W. Jamieson, W. Barnes, F. Souch, H. Eyres, F.A. Freeman, J. Fry, H.G. Hurley, H.E.Cobb, E.J. Spokes, A. Underwood, S. Flint, H. Jamieson, W. Aubrey, J. Ruff, G. Norris, A. Purkiss, W.J. Blair, H.A. Mercado, B. Gillingham, H. Spiller and F.Foster.
The Annual Report reiterated the aims of the Chamber and said 'Those who have professed to see in the formation of this Chamber a movement to bolster up unprincipled commerce would do well to study these objects. The commercial and trading classes of Brentford claim the right to organise without having sinister motives imputed to them'.
Subjects covered during the year had been the state of the High Street and its widening. There had been opposition to Carville Hall Park as a War memorial. The need for a public lavatory in New Brentford, the carting of Richmond refuse through the town and the use of a jury at coroner's inquests had also been taken up as well as the cost of gas and railway fares. Suggestions had also been made regarding the provision of a public telephone call office, and representation on the Magistrates bench.
Names of four of the members were put forward to stand for election to the Local Council. All promised to work for the 'economical and efficient government of the district' if they were elected.
Mr Forrester Clayton JP, (mentioned above) who lived at Mona Lodge, 3, The Butts (now St Paul's Church Rectory) was Chairman of the District Council for some time and Mr James Clements JP CC of Caerleon, Boston Road was the vice Chairman. He was a lighter owner and the Clements of the companies Clements Knowling and Clements Tough and became the first, or Charter Mayor of the Borough of Brentford and Chiswick. Both these gentlemen's names on a number of foundation stones of civic buildings of the time.
Mr Clayton's death is reported in the Chamber's Annual Report for 1942-1943 at which time he had been a member for many years and described as 'a man who devoted much of his time to local and county administration'.
World War II is a period when there is a good record of a difficult period in the Chamber's history as copies of all the Annual Reports are held in the Local History Collection at Chiswick Library. Membership in February 1941 was 123, a net decrease on the year of one. The report was kept as brief as possible to save paper and evening meetings during the winter had been cancelled because of the bombing. The Annual Dinner had not been held but a successful golf meeting was recorded as having taken place at Fulwell Golf Club.
Interesting and entertaining addresses had been given through the year by members as follows:-
- 'Bakelite' - The Material of Infinite Uses' by Mr W Hill, Commercial Ignition Co, Ltd in conjunction with Bakelite Ltd.
- 'Rubber and Synthetics' by Mr J L Woodman of Wondegrip Products Ltd
- 'Gyroscopes' by Mr H Murtagh, Chief Engineer of the Sperry Gyroscope Co Ltd
- 'The Automatic Pilot' by Mr J S Pole of the Sperry Gyroscope Co Ltd
- The talk at the Annual General meeting was 'Lighterage in the Port of London' by Mr F W Tipton of the Thames Steam Tug and Lighterage Co Ltd
During the year the Ministry of Supply had requested the Chamber to ascertain the productive capacities of members and this had been submitted. There had been discussions with London Passenger Transport Board and the Ministry of Supply with a view to improving passenger transport facilities by staggering hours of work. Other matters that had been dealt with through the year included The War Damage Act, Limitation of Supplies and Fire Fighting Orders, Shop Closing Hours, rates of pay. Queries arising out the operation of the Purchase Tax had been taken up with H M Customs and Excise. The Chamber's representative on the local committee of the Ministry of Information was Mr W Hill who passed on complaints and suggestions.
Donations had been made by members and from funds to the Mayor's 'Spitfire Fund' and three times during the year, in co-operation with the Rotary Club 'smokes' had been sent to local troops.
By March 1942 life and business was obviously difficult. Membership was down to 115 and attendance at meetings was also lower. It was thought this was because of the blackout, work of national importance being done by members, staff shortages and the need to work extra hours.
Fewer meetings were being held but one particular address by the President, Mr S Garratt of Brentford Printing and Publishing Co Ltd entitled 'A Brentford Problem to be Solved' sounds particular interesting.
It's likely that the subject of his conclusion in the Annual Report tells all. In discussing post war reconstruction nationally and locally a new High Street was thought to be vital and as a result a member, Mr Howard Lobb F.R.I.B.A. who lived in The Butts was to prepare a reconstruction plan to be submitted for later approval.
Through 1942 to 1943 social events were all cancelled and talks at meetings were entitled 'Road Transport in Wartime', 'Fire Watching Arrangements', The Essential Work Orders' and 'The Training of Juvenile Labour'. The usual contact had been kept with the various Ministries and a sub-committee had been set up to consider the position of the High Street widening scheme.
That year it seems Gillette Industries had contested the right of the Performing Rights Society to charge a fee to broadcast the 'Music While You Work' programme through the factory. The subject had been brought up in Parliament, the Minister of Production had promised to look into the position and the local MP, Col Harold Mitchell MA had asked the Chamber to take up the question too. Unfortunately there's no mention of how this was resolved.
Part of Mr Garratt's conclusion in his final report at the end of term of office expresses the difficulties of the time:
'The Council appreciate to the full the difficulties under which trade and commerce are being carried on, especially the exceptional circumstances affecting the retail trades. Unfortunately, as the war proceeds it must be obvious to us all that these difficulties will tend to increase as the gigantic struggle in which we are engaged is no respecter of persons, and touches every member of the community and every phase of life. We feel, however, that the tide has turned, and the proverbial silver lining is more clearly defined. We hope and trust that before we report again the victory in which we are confident will have been won and our thoughts will be once again to more peaceful pursuits.'
By April 1944 when Mr R F C Crowther, the new President, reported that the membership stood at 125 and there were still many restrictions to trade and commerce. He was looking forward to the lifting of rationing and the use of ration books with points and coupons. 'The nightmare of both buyer and seller' as he described it.
The High Street had been a preoccupation through the year. The Chamber, believing it would be better for the trade and the prestige of the town had, as mentioned before, pressed for a wider High Street. The Middlesex County Council had taken over responsibility shortly before the war but all plans had been postponed. The Chamber, it would seem with the aim of saving time after the war had Mr Lobb's plans to help the authorities when hostilities ceased. These were more ambitious than originally planned and aimed for the widening of the High Street, the reconstruction of a large part of the old town, the opening up of the riverside and provision of adequate new shopping and housing facilities.
The plan had its critics apparently but the Borough Council had granted funds to publicise the scheme (copies of Mr Lobb's plans are in Chiswick Library with pictures of the models).
By March 1945 the Chamber was in the 25th year of its existence and the attendance at meetings was increasing although there had been no social functions due to the war and rationing. Through the year there had been a number of discussions about the post war world including trade, the re-conversion of industry and the resettlement of returning of ex-servicemen.
It was pointed out that for a number of years most of the membership had been in the retail trade but at the time of the report most were drawn from industry. This was put down to the industrial expansion of the town with the reduction in retail members put down to the closure or demolition of premises along the High Street in preparation for its widening. This had led to reduced rating income and shopping facilities which 'are inconvenient to the public and disastrous to the shopkeepers who remain'.
The total membership at the time was 125 but members were being asked to stress the importance of membership and encourage others to join and by March 1946 it had risen to 129.
During the year 1945-46 with the war over and business looking to the future the Chamber affiliated to the Council of Retail Distributors and held a meeting for Presidents of five other west London Chambers over a successful lunch at the Clarendon Hotel (in Ealing?). Mr Lobb's scheme for the redevelopment had been agreed in principle by the Borough Council and an Annual Dinner to mark the 25 years from the inauguration of the Chamber was held. The full quota of 195 tickets were spoken for a week before the event that was held at the Red Lion Hotel in Hounslow. As wartime restrictions had meant that past Presidents badges had not been able to be made, Mr Sam Garrett and Mr R F C Crowther were presented with their badges. Mr Crowther in his final report emphasises the importance of the Chamber in the post war years in forwarding the interests of its members.
'After all' he writes 'the Chamber as a whole is made up of each member as a unit and the success of the whole can be measured only by what the unit is prepared to put into it - not by any means to the extend of an annual subscription, but by personal service'. A sentiment stressed for many years since then.
After the war there were many changes in the town.
A policy of decentralisation of industry and manufacturing encouraged a move away from London and the general lack of money, the slow release of land and an overburdened building trade led to delays in implementing most of the plans for housing and the High Street. This planning blight continued after Brentford became part of the London Borough of Hounslow in 1965 and until the end of the 20th century.
- Brentford Past by Gill Clegg, Historical Publications 2002
- The History of the Great West Road by James Marshall ALA, Heritage Publications 1995
- Victoria County History Volume VII Oxford University Press 1982
- Brentford (The Archive Photographs Series) Compiled by Carolyn and Peter Hammond. Chalford Publishing Company 1996.