Friday, July 22, 2016

A strange coincidence of family history

When we got married, my wife and I bought a terraced house in West London, in an area that estate agents like to call Chiswick but is really Acton. It's near Chiswick Park tube station but the neighbourhood had historically been called Acton Green - or, locally, Starch Green, because of the laundries that used to be there.

Acton Green is a small network of residential streets bordering on the much smarter Bedford Park. Bedford was my mother's maiden name. I'd never wondered if there was a connection between Bedford Park and 'my' Bedfords until I started looking into the history of our local area, in search of an ancestor who an old family tree told me had lived in Acton.

I had a idea that this just might be worth investigating when I noticed that there were two streets near us called Fairlawn Avenue and Fairlawn Grove. My mother had told me that Fairlawn was the house name the Bedfords had always used. She had been born in a Fairlawn in Northumberland, and there had been others, before and after.

After visiting the local history section of the Chiswick Library, I was put in contact with a genealogist called Lawrence Duttson, who had spent years looking into the history of Bedford Park, where he lived, and the Bedford family after whom it was named.

One day, before I'd even met him in person, Lawrence posted through our front door, a photocopy of a large Bedford family tree he'd been making. It came with a note, telling me that the tree would "save you years of work".

I unrolled it and discovered that among its most recent entries was my grandfather. Back from him stretched a line of Bedfords, including a John Bedford (1741-1805) who had indulged in some property speculation in the area, building three large houses in 1793, one of which he called Bedford House. When the new garden suburb estate was built around it, starting in 1875, the planners decided to call the neighbourhood Bedford Park.

As well as putting me in touch with Lawrence, the local librarian was able to explain the Fairlawn connection. Those roads were so called because they'd been built on the site of Fairlawn House, the home of John Bedford. The original Fairlawn was pulled down to make way for residential streets, but its name lived on.

By sheer chance, it seemed I'd bought a house within a quarter of a mile of where my ancestors had lived. But that wasn't quite the end of the story.

It turns out that after Fairlawn was pulled down, a new Fairlawn House was built a little to the North of the old one. This house was much closer to our new home.

Here's how the second Fairlawn House is shown in the 1893 Ordnance Survey map of South Acton and Gunnersbury:


Our road had yet to be built, but would appear in parallel with Kingswood, starting in the little gap in the row of houses in Rothschild Road. Here's how it appears on Google Maps today, with our house in red:


So were we living in my ancestor's back yard? Well, it's hard to know exactly what the surroundings of Fairlawn House consisted of, or who owned them. But I'd guess that the answer is, not necessarily, but certainly within a few yards at most.

If you superimpose the two images, with the apparent boundaries of Fairlawn House also in red, here's how close they are:


I don't know who lived in the new Fairlawn, but it seems reasonable to assume they were Bedfords, and that this was the start of the tradition of keeping the house name, even when the family moved house.

Looking at the map, I don't suppose my ancestor would be impressed to see how small my plot of land is compared to his. But I am only one of many of John Bedford's great great great great grandchildren. Collectively, we have probably expanded his empire.

A second edition of the late Lawrence Duttson's book 'Mainly About Bedford Park People' has been completed and published posthumously by his friends. 

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