Pinner is centuries old. It was one of the ten hamlets of the medieval Harrow Manor and is still the most easily distinguishable today. The name Pinner is nowadays considered to be of Saxon origin. Among the oldest written records of Pinner is one telling us that the church was here during the 1230s.
Pinner was the sort of village you learn about at school. Near the centre it had a church on a low hill with a street of houses leading down to the river. At the north was woodland and a large common or green. South of the street was a huge area subdivided into a few large fields and split up again into small portions. These were shared out among all the villagers, and as a rule they co-operated so that the same crop was grown on all the plots in any one field. This is the area where today the very large estates of 20th century semi-detached houses are to be found, and the two long roads the villagers used to get to their pieces are still here today – Cannon Lane and Rayners Lane. Rayners Lane used to be called Bourne Lane because it crossed several streams.
The area between the main street and the common or wood was for the most part given over to individually occupied estates of a few acres each on which co-operation was not necessary – only a few villagers had this sort of property. Roadways threaded between the properties and led to the houses, which were clustered in tiny hamlets whose names survive today – West End, East End, Hatch End, Pinner Green, Barrow Point, Nower Hill, Waxwell. The roads survive too. Some still have names going back to Tudor times or earlier – West End Lane, Moss Lane, Paines Lane, Love Lane, while others just as old have changed their names – Chapel Lane, Church Lane, Bridge Street.
All of this belonged to the lord of the manor of Harrow, and the villagers had their pieces in return for rent or work done. The lord kept some parts of Pinner entirely for his own use however. He had two large farms called Woodhall and Headstone. Part of Woodhall’s farmhouse is still there. So is part of Headstone’s house, as well as its barn and moat, and they form the Harrow Heritage and Museum Centre. Very different was Pinner Park, a 250-acre haven for his deer, protected from the depredation of local people by a high bank and two ditches. When needed his keeper would send deer to the lord’s table, or release some to be hunted in the neighbourhood. Today Pinner Park is known as Hall’s Farm, and parts of the old bank still exist.
In 1336 King Edward III granted a fair to be held in Pinner at Midsummer, the feast of its patron saint St. John the Baptist. It provided a chance for the inhabitants to buy things not usually obtainable locally and offered some welcome diversion. The natural site was just outside the church, which had been rebuilt in flint, completed a little earlier in 1321.
By Tudor and Stuart times there was a butcher, a baker, a candlestick-maker, a cobbler, a provisions man, even a tailor in the street, working from their homes. Some of the inhabitants who were doing well built houses which still stand, marking the old street and the hamlets. A few Londoners with money took an interest in Pinner, among them Sir Christopher Clitherow, Lord Mayor of London in 1635 who built a mansion on Pinner Hill, and others who bought Woodhall, Headstone and Pinner Park when the lord put them up for sale around that time.
Pinner continued to be primarily a place of people getting their living from the land, but by 1800 things were ready for a change. Many people had already sold their rights in their small pieces of land to more prosperous farmers and over the next couple of decades what remained of the great fields to the south were privatised, most small owners being bought out. This was the first great change in Pinner since medieval times and made it a place of a few farmers and many agricultural labourers. In the south Downs Farm was created in Cannon Lane, with land on either side. Much of the land along each side of Rayners Lane was acquired by farmer Daniel Hill who built a couple of cottages there for his workers. One of the families, living there for about half a century, was named Rayner, and the lane was renamed after these humble people.
The population of Pinner rose in the early 19th century as it did in the country as a whole. Most were ordinary folk who were accommodated in new houses added to the existing hamlets or along roadsides leading from them, on small plots created by the privatisation. The occupants worked on local farms, set up or assisted in the extra shops or businesses required by the greater numbers, or became servants.
The building of the London and Birmingham Railway, which clipped the north-east of Pinner in 1837, accelerated the trend. A station named Pinner was opened in 1842, and after several changes was finally renamed Hatch End in 1948. There were only a couple of farms nearby at first but with encouragement from the railway a new estate of well-to-do villas was built there by 1855 which was called Woodridings. It was an isolated estate and its residents were Pinner’s first commuters, using the train to Euston. They also employed a large number of servants, some of them drawn from Pinner.
In 1851 about 40% of the population of Pinner was engaged in agriculture or related occupations, but only about 15% by 1881, when the leading occupation was domestic service, which had risen from some 25% to about 30%. The main reason for the agricultural reduction was the movement from arable farming to the less labour intensive dairy farming and hay growing – these fields fed the horses which kept the streets of London grid-locked with traffic.
A school to cater for most of the children was founded in 1844, backed by the vicar and other worthies. The Commercial Travellers’ School, transferred to Hatch End in 1855, added two or three hundred more souls, largely confined to the school buildings.
The arrival of the Metropolitan Railway in 1885 enabled Pinner people, better educated by now, to take work in London, while Londoners could buy a home ‘in the country’. It gave rise to development of a slightly different sort, as streets near the centre of Pinner began to sprout houses on roadside fields sold by farmers, and new streets were laid out on chunks of fields sold by other landowners who lived close to the centre. By 1901 the population was 3366.
There was plenty of local recreational activity. There were entertainments – concerts, readings, bands, talks, magic lantern shows – in the parish hall at the foot of the High Street and in the temperance tavern called The Cocoa Tree at the top. There were flower shows, sports, Royal Jubilees and, of course, the fair.
By 1914 new neighbourhoods were appearing away from the centre of Pinner – North Harrow, St. George’s Headstone and a vastly enlarged Hatch End. Hundreds of men from Pinner served in some capacity during World War One, and many of those who died are remembered on the War Memorial at the top of the High Street in 1921.
Between the two world wars the physical expansion of London reached Pinner and went beyond it. The fields disappeared under large new estates and roads. A fresh neighbourhood appeared around Rayners Lane station. New shopping centres, schools and churches were needed. Cinemas were provided. In general the houses to the north were more expensive, and much of that area became known as Metroland, the name used by Metropolitan Railway Company to foster building along its line. People poured in. Growth continued to rise after World War Two, reaching more than 46,000 by 1961.
This was too large a mass to continue to be regarded as one entity. North Harrow, Rayners Lane, Headstone and Hatch End have their own identity today. What is meant by Pinner is more nebulous. But Pinner Village, a much used expression, now tends to mean the old heart of the village, that is the High Street and church, plus the nexus of those old lanes radiating from it. Many, though not all, of the oldest houses away from the High Street are to be found within it – Sweetman’s Hall, Orchard Cottage, Bee Cottage, Grange Cottage, The Bay House, and the three old houses at East End. The High Street itself shares many of the characteristics of village high streets further out in the Home Counties, being replete with timber-framed pubs, restaurants and antique shops. The village is still there, even if it is set within the matrix of Greater London.
Patricia A. Clarke