The Elms, Acton
The Elms, on Twyford Crescent, is Acton's oldest surviving building. It was built in about 1735. Its survival is due to the house finding a new use, just as Gunnersbury Park is now a museum and Pitshanger Manor an art gallery. Since 1981 it has been Twyford Church of England High School.
It was built as a baroque country villa by Charles Morren, a gentleman from Covent Garden. Its first owner (1737-1749) was Sir Joseph Ayloffe, lawyer and antiquarian. Afterwards, and until 1842, it was owned by the Wegg family. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw a number of wealthy and famous individuals take their families to Acton. At the time Acton was a small rural village with a population of under 2,000 people. It was a peaceful haven for the retired or, being only five miles from London, a convenient home for those who worked in London but wanted to live in a house in the country.
In the nineteenth century a large number of servants were needed to run the place. This was despite the fact that the family who owned it (in 1891) was only made up of three people Ronald Scott, an electrical engineer, his wife and their five-year-old son. There were seven servants; nurse (to look after the little boy), cook, parlour maid, housemaid, kitchen maid, groom and cowboy. The latter, of course, was nothing to do with the American west, but was employed to look after the cattle on the estate, which surrounded the house. Finally there was the coachman and his family who lived in the Elms Lodge.
The house itself is mainly built of brick and boasts a tall basement and two storeys. It has five bays and the pediment above the door is supported by four giant Doric pillars. The lower east and west wings were added to the house by Samuel Wegg in 1758.
The grounds were extensive and boasted green houses, a large fish pond and boating house until the early twentieth century. Around this time a factory owned by J.K Farnell was built to the north east of the house, which for several decades manufactured teddy bears.
It ceased to be a private house in 1954 and was lucky not to be replaced by a street of houses called Wegg Avenue (the nearby Fordhook Avenue being on the site of Fordhook, briefly residence to the novelist Henry Fielding). Instead, by happy chance, it was acquired by the Middlesex County Council. In the next few decades the house was added to in order to suit its new use. A three-storey classroom block and a lower wing surrounded a small courtyard in 1957. A technical block to the south followed ten years later. The firm Smith and Barron refurbished the buildings in the 1980s and built a sports hall. Purists might object to these additions and alterations, but at least the basic structure has remained intact both for its utilitarian value and for reminding the present about an aspect of Acton's past.
We would like to thank Dr Jonathan Oates, borough archivist and local history librarian, for the use of his information.