Stevens Town: West Ealing’s notorious slum

According to local historian Peter Hounsell’s notes to the reproduction of the 1894 Ordnance Survey Map ‘The area near the Autotype works was known as Stevens Town, after the family that developed it in the 1840s and 1850s. It was a notorious slum… the subject of numerous complaints and newspaper articles. In 1877 it was said that a sixth of the houses were unfit for habitation’.

The area of Stevens Town, much of which is now known as the Green Man Lane Estate, was the area stretching from its southern border of the Uxbridge Road going east as far as Green Man Lane, west to Brownlow Road and north to Felix Road. By 1896 the area also included Bedford Road, Connaught Road, Alexandra Road, Felix Road and Endsleigh Road.

Stevens Town area

Map of the Stevens Town area taken from Ordnance Survey map of 1894

The Stevens family which developed these tightly knit rows of housing were local butchers with shops in Ealing Broadway and Hanwell as well as in Stevens Town itself with premises at Nos 12,14 and 16Williams Road.

Kelly's Directory Ealing

Kelly’s Directory for Ealing, Acton…1889-90

As the nineteenth century came to a close little seemed to have changed. In February 1896 the Middlesex County Times published an article entitled ‘The Housing of the Working Classes in Ealing: A Trip To Stevens Town’ which detailed the findings of its own special investigation. The journalist took with him a Mr Thayers who he described as ‘a man of the people’. He quotes Mr Thayers as saying ‘I know of some very bad cases… places where rats run in and out – sewer rats, too. I know they are sewer rats because people catch them and bring them to me for my dog.’

The two men toured the streets talking to residents and heard about families crammed together in houses in Alfred Road (roughly north of where Singapore Road now runs); of old cottages in Green Man Lane each with four small, low-ceilinged rooms; of repairs rarely if ever done and of the struggle of residents of Hope Road even to get their walls whitewashed once in 10 years; and of damp conditions and rising rents.

They were told time after time of the need for more houses. One tenant said ‘The worst of it is sir, the population is growing faster than cottages are erected. Rents are going up everywhere and people can’t get houses.’

As for where the people of Stevens Town worked. The Great Western Railway would have been an important local employer and from 1874 onwards the newly built Autotype specialist art printing works opened up new employment opportunities. Built in what at the time was descibed by Autotype as quite a rural area the factory was ‘neatly fenced along Brownlow Road and the boiler house became a local landmark’. The factory occupied what is now the western part of the Green Man Lane Estate (the multi-storey car park and the land to its north).

Autotype factory

Autotype Factory established in rural ‘Ealing Dene ‘ 1874

Jumping on to 1956 and Kemp’s Directory of Ealing and Hanwell describes West Ealing as having ‘an excellent shopping centre along the Uxbridge Road, and much good-class residential property, although some of the streets, particularly those bordering the Uxbridge Road, contain cramped and dingy cottages built in the worst tradition of Victorian working-class dwellings’.

Two decades on and in April 1970 Ealing Council recommended ‘That the short and long term proposals for a master land use plan for the improvement and redevelopment of the West Ealing Study Area north of the Uxbridge Road be approved in principle’. In other words, the Council gave the go-ahead for the bulldozing of the old streets and the building of the Green Man Lane Estate. And only this year the Council once again gave the go-ahead for the bulldozing of the housing on this land and the building of yet another new housing development on what was once part of Stevens Town.