news

Middlesex Day: Intriguing history of Middlesex revealed

For Middlesex Day, we look back at the county's long history and at the ongoing battle to preserve its name

Middlesex Day may be a fairly new invention but the county's roots are believed to stretch back more than 2,000 years to the Iron Age.

The Middle Saxon Lands, from which its name originates, were a fiercely contested territory populated by Romans and Britons, caught between warring Saxon kingdoms to the east (Essex) and west (Wessex).

According to the Middlesex Federation, which campaigns to keep the county's moniker alive, they stretched from the Chiltern Hills in the west to the River Lea in the east.

The three seaxes (notched swords) on the county arms - from which Middlesex County Cricket Club takes its nickname the Seaxes - were weapons carried by Anglo-Saxon warriors.

Kingdom of Middlesex

The first known reference to the Kingdom of Middlesex came in a charter of King Offa, who ruled Mercia in the eighth century AD. It is described in the document as a province containing Twickenham.

The County of Middlesex was formed not long after, in 890AD, with its boundary marked by the rivers Lea, Thames and Colne. It stretched from Bow in east London to Uxbridge in the west, and as far north as Potters Bar.

Middlesex Guildhall, in Westminster, is home to the Supreme Court (Photo by Freepenguin, via Wikimedia Commons)

It wasn't until 1889 that the administrative district of Middlesex County Council was created, largely by lopping off the more central London extremities.

That survived until 1965, when most of the county council was swallowed up by new London boroughs like Ealing, Hillingdon, Hounslow and Richmond, during a huge expansion of the capital.

With the demise of the county council, many people believed that meant the end of Middlesex as a county.

Even Wikipedia refers to the county in the past tense, declaring it "was a county in south-east England".

Although its name lives on in a number of buildings and institutions - most famously Middlesex CCC - even its use as a postal county for sorting mail ceased nearly two decades ago.

The three seaxes (swords) on Middlesex County Cricket Club's crest are a reminder of the county's Saxon origins

But the Middlesex Federation along with many proud Middlesex residents past and present - most notably the celebrity astrologist Russell Grant - insists reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

"We do know that anyone who says Middlesex 'doesn't exist' is talking out their hat," the group's website declares.

"The assumption that because the County Council was abolished Middlesex is abolished is fanciful - did Middlesex not exist before 1889? For that is the very recent date the Middlesex County Council was formed."

Middlesex's role in defeating Napoleon

Middlesex Day is central to the federation's attempts to make more people realise the county, which it claims is England's third oldest behind only Kent and Essex, is very much alive and kicking.

It commemorates a famous military triumph by the Middlesex Regiment which took place on that date in 1811 many miles from south-east England, on the Spanish/Portuguese borders in Albuhera.

By repelling the might of Napoleon's army that day and stopping French forces marching into Portugal, the regiment gave Wellington's troops crucial time to retrench.

The federation's website stirringly declares: "As the supporters of the Middlesex Regiment gathers today in their HQ from their museum at Bruce Castle in Tottenham to their barracks in Mill Hill and Hounslow and one of their regimental drums at St Mary's Church, Staines, we must remember the history and heritage of this band of soldiers who have inspired generations to be proud of their County and who have scuppered the plans of more than one dictator at the eleventh hour."

The Middlesex Regiment famously stopped the advance of Napoleon's troops on May 16, 1811. Their success is commemorated on Middlesex Day (Crop of Napoléon dans son cabinet de travail (Jacques-Louis David, 1812). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

IT adds: "Now the fight to retain the magnificent and honourable Middlesex name is against bureaucracy, or some politicians who wish to merge, disband or abolish a century of history.

"That is why May 16 has come to mean more than a battle for it has become the loadstone of perpetual Middlesex pride, lest we forget this is the name that men through over a thousand years of history have rallied to in England and Britain’s defence."

Eddie Menday, historian for getwestlondon 's sister paper the Hounslow Chronicle, agreed with the sentiment.

"I still put Middlesex on my address. The name should never have been taken away from us. We lost the county council as an administrative body but they shouldn't have done away with the ancient title," he said.

"Fortunately the railway still says Ashford, Middlesex, and people use it on letters so the county name hasn't been forgotten completely."

View full mobile page