St Theodore

“A good fence helpeth to keepe peace between neighbours; but let vs take heed that we make not a high stone wall, to keepe vs from meeting.”

1640 E. Rogers Letter in Winthrop Papers

The best of neighbours are not always the best of friends and so it was with Twickenham, Isleworth and Heston. For over 1,000 years they have been squabbling about something or other.

In the 7th century. Theodore, the 8th Archbishop of Canterbury, in a move to reform the fledging church, introduced a system of parishes run by a parish priest. For us this meant the parish of Isleworth, later subdivided into the parishes of Heston, Isleworth and Twickenham. All would have been well were it not for the tithes, the payment each church collected within its parish. The larger the parish the more tithes the church could collect… and where there’s tithes there’s trouble!

The tithe was an annual payment of an agreed proportion (originally one-tenth) of the yearly produce of the land, which was payable by parishioners to the parish church. Originally tithes were paid ‘in kind’ (wool, milk, honey, fish, barley etc) and were payable on 3 categories of produce:

  1. All things which grew and increased annually e.g. grain, vegetables and wood.
  2. All things which were nourished by the ground – lambs, calves etc. – and animal produce like milk, hides, eggs and wool.
  3. The produce of man’s labour – particularly the profits of mills and fishing.

Isleworth - Twickenham border sign

A document dated 28th September 1439 shows that the parishes of Isleworth and Twickenham were in dispute about the shared boundary that ran from the Thames, close to where Twickenham Bridge now stands, to Ivy Bridge on the London Road. Walter Bisley, vicar of Twickenham and Edward Wych, vicar of Isleworth sent a “great instance and busy prayer” to their superiors asking for “permanent peace and rest ever to abide”. Master John Somerseth, Chancellor of the King’s Exchequer, assisted by a jury of 12 men made an arbitration. It was decided that the boundary would be marked by stones and wooden stakes. It was also decreed that on a certain Monday of each year the vicar of Isleworth “should go in procession with his parishioners… along the north side of the stakes… unto the village called Whitton”.

On the following Wednesday the vicar of Twickenham, should “go in procession with his parishioners… along the south side of the stakes unto the Ferry of Shene”, (later known as St Margarets Ferry, where Twickenham Bridge now stands)

Master John Somerseth’s arbitration lasted over a hundred years until it was the turn of Isleworth and Heston to fall out over a similar boundary dispute.

According to a contemporary account the Isleworth parishioners, complete with banners and crosses, had set out to walk their boundary “as was the ancient custom and the king’s command, going in God’s peace and the king’s, and without malice or grudge against any other parish” when they bumped into a similar procession from Heston. The Heston procession thought that the Isleworth parishioners were on the wrong side of the ditch marking the parish boundary – and ordered them back. When the Isleworth procession refused to move John Bygg from Heston threw the leading Isleworth bannerman into the ditch. A free-for-all broke out stirred up by the women from Heston shouting “Take away the crosse of Istyllworth from the catiffs, a vagon (vengeance) on all the parish of Istyllworth for they have undon us!” The fight only ended when the vicar of Isleworth, the parish constables, the churchwardens and other “honest men with their caps in their hands entreated the combatants in God’s name to keep the king’s peace.”

Gossip and accusations about the parish punch-up lasted for weeks. Heston said that the parishioners from Isleworth, anticipating a fight, were carrying staves and billhooks. Isleworth admitted this but said that the staves and billhooks were only used to jump over ditches and cut back bushes in their way. In a counter claim Isleworth said that the Heston parishioners had planned the attack and that John Bygg, had “said in a certain place in Hounslow that he would stop the Isleworth procession and not allow them on the king’s highway.”

Boundry House

The Heston/Isleworth disagreement continued until the matter was eventually brought before “The good Mr John Gates, Esquire, to be ordered”. How good John Gates “ordered” the matter we no longer know. That old parish boundary, originally marked by stones and stakes, running from Ivy Bridge down to the Thames at Twickenham Bridge still exists as the southern edge of the parish of St Margarets-on-Thames. A stone marker on Ivy Bridge and the presence of Boundary House on the north end of St Margarets Road indicate this boundary.

Debate about local boundaries continues to this day. Prior to 1994 those of us who lived in north St Margarets were citizens of the London Borough of Hounslow and enjoyed the many benefits that went with it – low council rates – or ‘community charges’ as they were known then – and the peace of mind that came with Hounslow’s “Nuclear Free Umbrella.” Then in 1994 it was decided to move the eastern end of the boundary away from the Thames westwards to the River Crane. Suddenly north St Margarets became part of the London Borough of Richmond. Council charges went up – but so did house prices by about 10%. More recently the parish of St Margarets-on-Thames (note the “on-Thames” bit!,) centred on the church of All Souls in Haliburton Road, had its own boundary extended westwards to include the Ivybridge Estate… which in a roundabout sort of way brings us back to where we started.

— from Martyn Day