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Spelthorne Heritage

Spelthorne Hundred and Spelthorne Borough

The Borough of Spelthorne is situated geographically in south western Middlesex but, for administrative purposes, it comes under the non-metropolitan County of Surrey (not the same thing as the historical and geographical as the County of Surrey) and it was created on 1st April 1974 from the urban districts of Staines and Sunbury-on-Thames.

Staines and Sunbury-on-Thames were, until 31st March 1965, urban districts within the administrative County of Middlesex but, on 1st April 1965, when the G.L.C came into existence,they were not included in the new “Greater London” administrative area and were transferred, for the purpose of local government, to the neighbouring administrative County of Surrey.

On 31st March 1974 the administrative County of Surrey was, itself, abolished and replaced with the non-metropolitan County of Surrey from 1st April of that year and the new Borough of Spelthorne was included, administratively, within this newly created administrative body. It was NOT transferred to the geographical County of Surrey at that time and it had not previously been transferred to the administrative County of Surrey in 1965 either. Geographically Staines and Sunbury-on-Thames are, and always have been, in the geographical County of Middlesex.

Administrative and non-metropolitan “counties” are merely temporary and transitory local government areas which can, and do, alter whenever it suits the purposes of local government administration to do so and they can, and often are, abolished completely in the frequent local government upheavals caused by recommendations of the Boundary Commission (in order, supposedly, to balance the sizes of electoral areas) approximately every ten years or so. Geographical Counties are, on the other hand, fixed and stable features of our history and national geography and do not alter whenever local government areas alter. Indeed, they cannot be altered by Parliament as they originated long before Parliament ever existed and were not, therefore, created by Parliament in the first place and Parliament only has the legal power to repeal or amend legislation that it has, itself, previously passed into Law ( the very reason administrative “counties” were first created by Parliament in 1889). Indeed, our historic geographical counties existed before Great Britain existed and before England existed. They are, therefore, inviolate, unchanging  and here forever or, as a letter dated 10th February 1987 from the Department of the Environment stated “will continue as long as people want them to”.

Exactly the same situation prevails with our ancient Hundreds. Although no longer used as administrative areas, they are, in fact, even older than our counties and it was from groups of Hundreds that our counties were formed in the first place – in the late ninth and early tenth centuries.

The Hundred was a Saxon unit of land area used both for tax assessment and for judicial proceedings (there were Hundred Courts responsible for keeping of the Peace) and they were also the basis for military service. The Hundred was an area which contained a hundred “hides” of land and the “hide” was a variable unit of between 80 and 160 acres. It was considered to be the amount of land required to support a freeman and his family for one year and its variable nature depended upon the type of terrain it was situated in and the fertility of the soil. In hilly or boggy areas more land would be required to grow crops and so in the north and south west of the country, the hide tended to be larger than in more fertile parts of the south-east and, consequently the Hundreds were proportionately larger as well. The hide was, then, a measure of value rather than of area although it later became standardised as a land area of 120 acres.

Apart from their judicial and taxation role, the Hundreds were the basic unit for military service and each freeman owning a hide of land was liable to serve in defence of the “burh” (a fortified settlement or town – i.e. borough). The size of the burh was dependent upon the number of Hundreds allocated to its defence so Hertford had eight Hundreds for its support and eight hundred men for its defence, Buckingham had nine and Southwark had twelve. It was these groups of Hundreds that formed the shire based on each burh – HERTFORDshire, BUCKINGHAMshire etc.

Middlesex only had six Hundreds to defend London, presumably because any attack on London was expected to come from the south and the twelve Hundreds, and twelve hundred men supporting Southwark (Surrey), would also be defending London.

The network of burhs (fortified towns) was started by King Alfred the Great in the Kingdom of Wessex from C. 880 A.D. and it was within the original counties of Wessex (Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, Devonshire and Somersetshire) that the most burhs were created and, in these counties, there were more than just a single burh. Hampshire, for example, had the burhs of Winchester (the capital of Wessex), Southampton, Twynam and Portchester but they were not formed into four separate shires so, presumably, the forty or so Hundreds of Hampshire were divided and allocated to each of the burhs as felt necessary for the effective defence of Hampshire.

The same was true of the counties along the south and east coasts which also had more than one burh each and a far larger number of Hundreds. Obviously this was where any invasion would occur and so more fortifications would be necessary and, again, the Hundreds were allocated to the several burhs in those shires rather than creating separate shires for each burh. After 886 (The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum) when the Kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia had united and King Alfred had recaptured London and established the boundary with the Danelaw along the Rivers Lea and Ouse and along Watling Street as far as Chester, the Saxon Kingdoms were in a far safer position and there was less need for so many defensive establishments and, therefore, the burhs created after this date were established along this boundary and, later, on the boundaries of  any newly captured territory and the Hundreds allocated to these burhs were formed into single shires – Middlesex, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Warwickshire etc. These newer inland shires tended to be smaller than the earlier ones of Wessex, and the coastal ones of Sussex, Kent and Essex.

Middlesex and Hertfordshire seem to have been separated in 886 A.D. and Middlesex comprised the six Hundreds of Ossulstone, Edmonton, Gore, Elthorne, Isleworth (originally Hounslow) and Spelthorne. In 1086 Spelthorne Hundred was comprised of the manors of Ashford, Bedfont, Charlton, Feltham, Hanworth, Kempton, Laleham, Littleton, Shepperton, Stanwell, Staines and Sunbury. In 1086 the manor of Hampton (including Teddington and Hampton Wick) was within Hounslow (later Isleworth) Hundred but all later references (and certainly by the 12th century) it is included in Spelthorne Hundred.  So the ancient Hundred of Spelthorne with a history of well over 900 years is a lot different to the modern non-metropolitan district borough misappropriating its name and created only 45 years ago.

As for the borough of Spelthorne being in the “County of Surrey” it should be clearly understood that, because the Middlesex urban districts of Staines and Sunbury-on-Thames (less than half the area of the Hundred of Spelthorne) did not become part of the newly created G.L.C. area in 1965, they were transferred, only for administrative purposes, to the adjacent ADMINISTRATIVE County of Surrey (as first created by the Local Government Act of 1888) but NOT to the HISTORICAL and  GEOGRAPHICAL County of Surrey.

It should also be borne in mind that, in the short longevity of administrative areas, the administrative County of Surrey (existing from 1st April 1889) was abolished on 31st March 1974 and replaced by the non-metropolitan County of Surrey from 1st April 1974. So, not a lot of historical continuity there then!!!

It should further be borne in mind that, originally, from the first arrival of the Saxons in the mid fifth century, Surrey’s very name was “Suthridge” – the “southern region” and it was the region that lay to the south of the River Thames – i.e. the southern region of the Province of MIDDLESEX and it remained thus until 705 A.D. at which time it seems to have come under the influence of the Kingdom of Wessex and was transferred from the Diocese of London to the Diocese of Winchester.

The people of the Borough of Spelthorne were fortunate enough to have retained their Middlesex postal addresses in 1965 so, even now, 54 years later, have little difficulty in realising that a County with over 900 years of history is not the same thing as a very recent and transitory administrative area created solely for the perceived convenience of local government and they have no difficulty in appreciating which is of more significance and importance. It is high time, then,  the current trustees of that history and identity (Surrey County Council)  also became aware of the difference between the two very different entities (both, unfortunately, bearing the misleading name of “county”) and that they also acknowledged which of the two should be given priority of importance.

Local Government and local identity – the case of Poyle and Colnbrook

Local Government areas do not, and should not, have anything to do with the actual geography or history of a place. The 1888 Local Government Act created Administrative counties for the sole purpose of local government administration. It was made very clear at the time that they were to be called administrative Counties (an unfortunate description) to distinguish them from the historical geographical counties which would continue to exist for all purposes other than local government administration (i.e. ecclesiastical, Parliamentary, judicial and social). The reason Parliament needed to create these new administrative areas was because they required local government areas that could be altered of abolished at any time according to the changing future requirements of local government and they could not alter or abolish the existing geographical counties for the simple reason that Parliament had not created them in the first place. Parliament can, of course, only repeal and amend legislation that it has, itself passed into Law and our counties were created long before Parliament ever existed.

Nevertheless, there is a widely held, but totally misguided, belief, especially by our local county and borough councillors, that, because of changes made to local government areas solely for the requirements of local government, everything else must also be changed – postal addresses, maps, road signs etc., etc. Apart from being totally unnecessary and very costly (and these local government alterations now happen even more frequently than they did in the past – more or less every ten years or so), they distort geography and history and lead to considerable misunderstanding and confusion and they do untold damage to people’s perception of their true identity. The complete absurdity of the situation, at least in relation to Spelthorne, is particularly apparent in the following example: –

Richard Cox and the Cox’s Orange Pippin

Richard Cox, a retired brewer from Bermondsey, Surrey and the gentleman responsible for producing the Cox’s Orange Pippin apple in the 1830’s, went to live in a house on the Bath Road called “The Lawns” in Ridsworth (the name of the part of the village of Colnbrook situated on the eastern side of the River of that name) in Stanwell parish in the County of Middlesex. The main part of the village on the western side of the Colnbrook is in Buckinghamshire. The name ‘Ridsworth’ has, sadly, been forgotten and the whole village on both sides of the Colnbrook is now all referred to as Colnbrook.

The Wikipedia article on Richard Cox refers to”-

“Colnbrook, Slough, Buckinghamshire (now “Berkshire”)” and, the Wikipedia article for “Colnbrook” itself states that it is … “Colnbrook with Poyle” civil parish in the Borough of Slough, “Buckinghamshire” but was transferred to “Berkshire” in 1995 and that it was made part of the parish of Iver in South Bucks. District on 1st April 1974.

The article goes on to state “Colnbrook has a complicated administrative history, The village was historically divided by the Colne Brook (it still is) between the ancient parish of Stanwell in Middlesex in the east, and the parishes of Horton and Langley Marish in Buckinghamshire in the west. Stanwell became part of Staines Rural District (in Middlesex) in 1894 and Staines Urban district (in Middlesex) in 1930. The Buckinghamshire parishes joined Eton Rural District in 1894.

In 1965 the eastern part of Colnbrook (i.e. Ridsworth in Middlesex) was transferred to Surrey (i.e. the administrative County of Surrey as opposed to the geographical one) with the rest of Staines Urban District. In 1974 Staines Urban District was absorbed into the new Borough of Spelthorne. In 1974 most of the parish of Horton (Bucks.) was transferred to the new Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire (i.e. Windsor and Maidenhead are, indeed, in the geographical County of Berkshire but Horton was only transferred to the administrative County of Berkshire and not to the geographical County of Berkshire) but the western part of Colnbrook remained in Buckinghamshire (administratively as well as geographically) and was added to the parish of Iver in the “South Bucks. District”. Conbrook was finally united on 1st April 1965, when the present combined parish of “Colnbrook with Poyle” was formed and added to the Borough of Slough “in Berkshire” (i.e. the administrative County of Berkshire and not the geographical one as Slough IS, of course, in the geographical County of Buckinghamshire). That was the last boundary change before Berkshire County Council was abolished (1998) to be replaced by six unitary authorities.”

So, now, Colnbrook (both the Buckinghamshire part of the village and the Middlesex part – Ridsworth) and the hamlet of Poyle (Middlesex) are all in the Unitary Authority of Slough and not in any Non-Metropolitan County at all” and under the administration of no County Council authority. Conbrook’s, and Poyle’s, recommended postal address is, however, still considered to be “Slough, Berkshire” despite the fact that, administratively, “Berkshire” (i.e. the administrative County) no longer exists! As far as the Post Office is concerned, Colnbrook and Poyle are no longer in any county at all but in the post code area of “Slough” which stretches from Gerrard’s Cross (Buckinghamshire) in the north to Ascot (Berkshire) in the south and from Iver (Buckinghamshire) in the east to Marlow (Buckinghamshire) in the west.

Confused ? So well you might be, as, undoubtedly, the local residents are as well, and anyone trying to find Richard Cox’s house will most certainly be. Perhaps THAT is the primary intention behind all this constant administrative meddling! Make such a confusing and complicated mess of everything so that it can never be untangled, dismantled or put right again and until such time as there is nobody left who knows what the correct situation should be so history and identity are eradicated forever. Why, though, is another matter and this is probably not the correct place to go too deeply into it. It might, however, be apparent, from reading about all this bureaucratic tampering that they all came into being on the same day of the year including the abolition of Middlesex County Council and the creation of the G.L.C. – that date is the April 1st – All Fools’ Day! One cannot help wondering whether there might be a special reason for choosing this particular date and who, exactly, are the fools; the people doing it or the people who believe them?

The simple, but geographically and historically accurate, facts of this lunacy are as follows:-

Colnbrook, Iver and Slough are all in BUCKINGHAMSHIRE and always have been!

Poyle and Ridsworth (the part of Colnbrook village lying to the east of the stream called the Colne Brook) are both in Stanwell parish, MIDDLESEX and always have been!

None of these places has ever been in either the County of Berkshire or the County of Surrey. The counties of Buckinghamshire and Middlesex are where these places are actually situated, both geographically and historically, and that is the information most people want, or need, to know, whether they are studying local history or their own family history or the history of any person or organisation connected with those places or even if they are merely wishing to visit somebody who lives in those places. They do not want to, nor do they need to, know what particular transitory local authority is currently responsible for emptying the dustbins of the people they are visiting. They certainly don’t want to have been confronted with contradictory, and totally unhelpful and false information that advises them that the place they are looking for might be in Berkshire or Buckinghamshire, or Middlesex or Surrey. That would be quite a vast area to get lost in.

Is it not time to stop falsifying geography and history and allowing people to know the truth about the history and geography of where they live and their true identity? It would not have any effect on the local authority that currently administers the area as local government has nothing to do with history. geography or identity. Surrey County Council can administer Spelthorne, but Staines and Sunbury will remain in the geographical County of Middlesex, as, indeed, they are and just as their postal addresses confirm. If the reason for this anomaly is properly explained to people it will cause a lot less confusion than it obviously does by not explaining it and, one would imagine, a lot less hostility and resentment for attempting to distort and misrepresent things to the local populace as has been the case for the last fifty four years. It might well earn both Spelthorne Borough Council and Surrey County Council a degree of respect and admiration for having the good grace and honesty to do so.