At the time of Cæsar's invasion, this part of the British territory, together with the district now forming the county of Essex, was inhabited by the Trinobantes, the first British tribe that submitted to the Romans; and on the final reduction of Britain to the condition of a Roman province, it was included in the division called Flavia Cæsariensis. The name is a slight corruption of the Anglo-Saxon Middel-Seaxe, signifying "the country of the Middle Saxons," from the situation of this portion of the English territory in the centre of the early Saxon sovereignties in South Britain. Middel-Seaxe did not, however, form a distinct kingdom, but was included in that of the East Saxons, established in Essex about the year 530. The county is in the diocese of London, and province of Canterbury, and forms a deanery and archdeaconry, comprising, with the exception of those metropolitan parishes which are given in a tabular form under the head of London, 70 parishes. Its civil divisions are, the hundreds of Edmonton, Elthorne, Gore, Isleworth, Ossulstone (including the divisions of Finsbury, Holborn, and the Tower), and Spelthorne; and the liberties of the cities of London and Westminster. It comprises the city of London (locally); the borough, commonly called the city, of Westminster; the newlyenfranchised boroughs of Mary-le-bone, Finsbury, and the Tower Hamlets; and the market-towns of Brentford, Staines, and Uxbridge. Two knights are returned to parliament for the shire, four citizens for London, and two burgesses for each of the four boroughs. The shrievalty of Middlesex is united to that of London, under the head of which place it is described. The county is within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court, in the Old Bailey, London, where all cases usually tried at courts of assize are determined. The quartersessions are held at the sessions-house on Clerkenwell Green.
The surface of the greater part of this small county is gently undulated, and diversified with plantations and winding streams, together with almost innumerable villas and ornamented grounds and lawns. The northern border, being high ground, adds, by the shelter which it affords, much to the fertility of the other parts. All the land to the south of the road passing from Brentford, through Hounslow, to Longford, is very nearly an entire flat, the greater part of which is less than ten feet above the level of the Thames, which runs along the whole southern side of it; whilst the summits of the principal elevations in the northern part of the county rise to the height of about 400 feet above the level of high-water mark in that river. From Staines, by Ashford and Hanworth commons, to Twickenham, a distance of 7½ miles, extends another flat, lying from ten to twenty feet above the surface of the Thames. In the western part of the county, stretching chiefly to the north of Hounslow heath, is a considerable corn tract, and there is another in the north-eastern part of it; but by far the greater portion of the land is meadow or pasture. On several of the hills, where the soil is naturally thin and unproductive, particularly on the hills of Hampstead and Highgate, and at Hadley, the ground is nevertheless of great value, on account of the fine situations for building. With good cultivation, and the manure procured from London, the soil has every where been ameliorated, so that in most places it assumes the appearance of loam, though varying in quality. The total amount of arable land is about 14,000 acres, or one-thirteenth of the whole county; the corn is almost wholly wheat and barley, rye and oats being sown only in very small quantities. Beans, peas, turnips, and cabbages, are commonly grown. About seven eighteenths of the county, or 70,000 acres, consist of upland meadows and pastures, which, from careful cultivation, and the abundant supply of manure obtained from London, are of the best quality. In different parts of this large tract of land, and more especially in the immediate vicinity of the metropolis, the grass is mown constantly every year, and sometimes twice, or even thrice, a year. Besides the above, the banks of the river Lea contain some excellent grass lands, comprising altogether about 2000 acres, of which 1200, lying in the parishes of Enfield and Edmonton, are inclosed, the rest being divided by landmarks among a great number of proprietors. This tract is frequently flooded in winter, and sometimes in summer; the water, in consequence of the interruptions it meets with in the lower part of its course towards the Thames, remains long on the ground, and does much damage to the herbage. The Isle of Dogs, containing 500 acres, is situated at the south-eastern corner of the county, and would be overflowed by every tide, were it not for the security of its banks: this is reputed to be the richest grazing land in the county, and is divided and drained by ditches, which communicate with the Thames, at low water, by means of sluices. Bordering on the river Colne, also, are about 2500 acres of meadow and pasture, stretching from Staines to Harefield, and, being little elevated above the level of the river, much subject to floods.
The number of cows kept in the county for supplying the metropolis with milk is between 7000 and 8000, usually of the Holderness breed. Many early house lambs are fed, the stock from which they are bred being sought with great diligence from all parts of Dorsetshire, and the fairs where such stock is usually sold; grass lambs are also reared for the Smithfield market. A vast extent of land in the vicinities of Kensington, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Brentford, Isleworth, and Twickenham, is occupied by fruit gardens, for the supply of the metropolis; and a very great quantity of the richest ground in its vicinity is applied to the raising of vegetables. At Chelsea, Brompton, Kensington, Hackney, Dalston, Bow, and Mile-End, much land is occupied by nurserymen, who spare no expense in collecting the choicest sorts and greatest variety of fruit-trees, ornamental shrubs, and flowers, from every quarter of the globe, which they cultivate to a high degree of perfection. The grounds occupy about 1500 acres; and many plants are exported from them to Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and Russia. In the Thames are some islands planted with osiers for the use of basket-makers. The common lands yet remaining uninclosed are of small extent; the principal are Ashford, Littleton, and Laleham commons, Staines and Cowley moors, Hallingdon heath, Uxbridge and Harefield commons, Clapton marshes, and Hadley, an allotment from Enfield Chase.
The manufactures are too numerous and extensive for detail; the two most important are, that of silk, in the parishes of Spitalfields, Shoreditch, and Bethnal-Green, and that of watches, in the parish of Clerkenwell. With regard to the consumption of agricultural produce, the distilleries are of vast importance, and they yield a revenue equal to that of all the other distilleries in Great Britain; the breweries, too, are of great extent. Besides the prodigious amount of the imports and exports of the port of London, innumerable small cargoes of merchandise of various descriptions, including grain, malt, and flour, are conveyed away or received by means of the inland barges on the Thames and the Lea.
The principal rivers are the Thames, the Lea, and the Colne, besides which are the smaller streams of the Brent and the Cran. The Thames, so celebrated throughout the world, as connected with the port of London, constitutes the southern boundary of the county for a distance of 43 miles. The largest ships in the service of the East India Company come up this river with safety to the corner of the county at Blackwall; it is navigable for West India ships to London bridge, and for large barges in the whole of its course on the border of Middlesex, along which the tide flows up it, for the distance of about 25 miles, to Teddington. The Lea forms the entire eastern boundary of the county, and is divided in the greater part of its course, into several natural channels, uniting into one shortly before its influx into the Thames near Blackwall. The river has been made navigable, from its mouth upwards, to the distance of about eight miles; a canal navigation then branches from it on the western side, and runs nearly parallel with it through the meadows of Tottenham, Edmonton, and Enfield, whence it is continued to Hertford. The Grand Junction canal commences at the Thames at Brentford, and quits the county for Hertfordshire near Ricksmanworth, in the latter county. From it, at Bull bridge, commences an important branch, called the Paddington canal, which passes on one level, through the central part of the county to Paddington, whence it has been continued by the Regent's canal, round the whole northern side of London, to the Thames at Limehouse. The Regent's canal is nearly nine miles long. Besides the Lea navigation already mentioned, there is an important side cut from that river at Bromley to a basin at Limehouse, communicating with the Thames. A creek from the Thames to Kensington is also navigable. The New River, projected by Sir Hugh Myddelton, for supplying the metropolis with water, is described under the head of Clerkenwell. The London and Birmingham railway commences at Euston-square, and, after passing through a tunnel at Primrose Hill, and by the town of Harrow, quits the county near Pinner Hill: the Great Western railway, commencing at Paddington, and pursuing a westward course, quits it a little beyond West Drayton; and parts of the county are intersected by the Eastern-Counties railway, in the east. There are also the two short lines called the London and Blackwall, and the West London, the former about 3¼ miles long, and the latter, which runs from Kensington to the Great Western and Birmingham railways, near Holsden-Green, about 3 miles long. The principal turnpike roads bear conspicuous marks of their vicinity to a great city; and scattered villas, and genteel houses, frequently in handsome rows and terraces, are erected on one or both sides of them to the distance of five or six miles out of London.
The only Roman station within the limits of the county, besides Londinium, the seat of the Roman government of Britain, appears to have been Sulloniacæ, the supposed site of which was on Brockley Hill, near Elstree, where various Roman remains have been discovered. The ancient Watling-street is thought to have run from Dowgate, on the north bank of the Thames, along the line of the modern Watling-street in the city of London, to Aldersgate, and to have been continued in a northwestern direction, and fallen into the line of the present road to St. Alban's by Paddington and Edgware. The Ermin-street led northwards, through Islington, by Stoke-Newington and Hornsey Wood, to Enfield, and, diverging near the latter place, passed Clay Hill, and entered Hertfordshire. A third Roman road led from the metropolis westward into Surrey and Berkshire, in the line of the present great western road through Brentford, Hounslow, and Staines: a fourth is believed to have led eastward, along Old-street and over Bethnal Green to Old Ford, where it crossed the Lea into Essex; and it is probable that another left the city at Aldgate, and pursued the course of the present high road through Whitechapel and Stratford-le-Bow, into Essex. Roman antiquities have been found in different parts; the most important are described in the article on London. The number of religious houses in the county prior to the Reformation, exclusively of those in the metropolis and its suburbs, was few. Among the most perfect specimens of ancient domestic architecture are Holland House, Harefield Place, and Wyer Hall at Tottenham; and of the mansious most distinguished for grandeur or elegance may be enumerated (in addition to the vast number of magnificent residences in the metropolis) the royal palaces of Hampton Court and Kensington; Sion House, the seat of the Duke of Northumberland; Chiswick House, of the Duke of Devonshire; Osterley Park, of the Earl of Jersey; Bentley Priory, of the Marquess of Abercorn; Caen Wood, of the Earl of Mansfield; Fulham Palace, of the Bishop of London; and Wrotham Park, that of the late George Byng, Esq. In various parts of the county are springs of mineral water, some of which have been in great repute for their medicinal properties, but none of them are now much frequented.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.