Bedford ParkResidents' Association
Home > Soapsud Island To Motown

Soapsud Island To Mowtown

Towards the end of the 17th century, several springs were found to the north of Bedford Park and, for a time, they became health spas.  There was even a golf links under what is now the South Acton housing estate.  In the nineteenth century the area became famous for its laundries and at the end of the century there were around 170 establishments in South Acton, leading to the nickname 'Soapsuds Island.' 

There is some dispute as to whether the arrival of the laundries is related to the water in the springs, as they were often polluted with waste from the local farms. Many of the laundries did have their own wells, though the laundry owners said that this water was harder than mains water which arrived in Acton Green in 1879, thanks to the Metropolitan Water Act.

These laundries served hotels in London's West End and the large houses that had been developed in Kensington and Chelsea.  The laundry industry spread through Acton as far as the Goldhawk Road, hence the name Starch Green, the location for several laundries using water from the now buried Stamford Brook. The history of these laundries can still be seen in the houses and streets of South Acton where small industrial buildings with arched doorways into courtyards and dropped curbs are common amongst the terraced housing.  

Many complementary industries sprang up including soap factories and basket makers, and by the end of the 19th century South Acton was one of the most heavily industrialised areas south of Coventry. Most of these factories have now been removed or turned into flats and are only remembered in building or road names.  One of the largest, Evershed & Vignoles, built in 1933 at the bottom of Acton Lane, was turned into flats in the 1990s with an access road called Evershed Walk.

In the  years after Victoria’s jubilee, a veritable hive of engineering companies sprang up in Acton and Chiswick. Centred in Acton Vale, it led to the area being nicknamed Motor Town.  Bedford Park also had its fair share. Early 20th century car dealers and repairers, Keene’s Automobile Works, took over the building in Bath Road, next to the Tabard Inn, which had formerly been the premises of the Bedford Park Stores. Toldcarhe firm's works behind the building, now a modern office building on Flanders Road, had room for 250 cars in 1903. Keene's developed a 14 horse-power steam car called the `Keenelet', but this was never marketed and the company failed in 1904.

HJ Mulliners took over the premises in 1908 to carry out coachwork for various motor car manufacturers, including Rolls Royce and Daimler.  During World War II they built gliders and in 1959 the firm was acquired by Rolls Royce. The firm left Chiswick in 1968 and the factory in Flanders Road was rebuilt as offices called Mulliner House.