Transport in Ealing

Transport plays a key part in everyone’s life for both leisure and business purposes. For centuries, the only forms of land transport have been those provided directly by people’s feet and by animals. Most people walked, some rode horses or were transported in horse drawn vehicles, such as stage coaches and in the nineteenth century, horse buses and horse trams. Travel was relatively slow and expensive, journeys were shorter and less common. It was only in the nineteenth century and onwards that steam, electric and diesel power was harnessed in the form of trains, trams, motor buses and cars.


Stage coaches travelled along both the Uxbridge Road to and from London throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth and well into the nineteenth century. From 1784 these carried mail as well as passengers and a number of inns along both the Uxbridge Road and the road from Ealing to Brentford were places where mail would be deposited and later collected for a fee, by those to whom it was addressed. In Southall the White Hart was used for this purpose.

The first known stage coach in this district dates back to 1661. Although it was soon possible to take a coach from London and be in Oxford by the same day (the same time that a horse rider could undertake the trip), most vehicles took two days. The latter would usually stop at High Wycombe for the night. Fares were in the region of ten to twelve shillings in one direction.

Journeys may have been made better once the Uxbridge Road becoming a turnpike road in 1714, where tolls were collected from travellers in order to pay for improvements and repairs to the road. However, according to one man, travelling on the road in winter at the end of the century, the road was very narrow and deep with mud and water. However, in the next decade one John MacAdam was appointed as company surveyor and his work led to the roads being repaired and improved.

Photo of Ealing to Hanwell horse bus

    Above: Ealing to Hanwell Horse bus, c.1880s 

Despite the establishment of the railways, horse drawn traffic remained in existence until towards the end of the nineteenth century. Buses drawn by two or three horses appear to have been first used in the late eighteenth century to cover relatively short distances, compared to the longer routes of the stage coaches, though they carried more people. There were daily buses only along the Uxbridge Road in 1782, rising to five per day in 1799, travelling from Uxbridge to Holborn or Whitechapel, via Ealing. The number rose, with there being 32 by 1833 and by now they were known as omnibuses. They often collected passengers outside inns. In Ealing this occurred at New Inn where there were two omnibuses leaving each morning to London.

By 1886 the major bus terminus was the Railway Hotel on the corner of the High Street. Some went as far as to various towns in Buckinghamshire. There were also shorter routes travelled such as the bus from Hanwell to London leaving twice each morning in 1854 and returning in the evenings. The London General Omnibus Company eventually ran most of the horse bus services in the district but they ceased using horsepower in 1901, though other horse buses operated in this district until 1911, due to the advent of the motor buses.

Horses also pulled trams along trackways built on the roads and because of this could pull larger vehicles and carry more passengers. In 1871 the Southall, Ealing and Shepherd’s Bush Tram-Railway Company was formed to build and operate a line from Shepherd’s Bush to Southall. There was a further scheme for an extension to Uxbridge, but this was dropped. In 1873 part of the line was built but only from Shepherd’s Bush to Acton and the scheme folded. In 1876 another company took over and in 1881 another, but little more track was ever built on the route that had been proposed.

Photo of Horse tram in Acton, c.1895

    Above: Horse tram in Acton, c.1895 

Horse drawn transport was rare after 1914 but was not unknown except as a rarity until after about 1939. Horse drawn cabs, shopkeeper’s delivery carts and coal merchants’ delivery carts still could be seen in the Ealing streets of the 1930s as they always had been. As a mode of public transport, however, they had ceased by about 1911.

Wealthy people would have their own horse/s and carriage, and quite possibly employed a driver. By the early twentieth century these carriages were replaced by cars and chauffeurs.

Photo of The Cottage, Gunnersbury Lane, 1886

              Above: The Cottage, Gunnersbury Lane, 1886 


The Grand Junction Canal Company planned to build an inland waterway to allow barges to transport goods to and from London and the Midlands. It gained authority to do so in 1793, and eventually stretched from the Thames at Brentford to the Oxford canal at Bourston, Northamptonshire. Progress was slow, but it was opened as far as Uxbridge in 1798 and was completed by 1805. A branch was also constructed from Bull’s Bridge in Southall to Paddington Basin, opening in 1901 and passing through Greenford and Northolt. These helped stimulate local industry, especially the brickfields of Southall and Northolt, as well as encouraging some farmers in Perivale to focus on haymaking rather than arable. When the canals were nationalised in 1948 those around London were known as the Grand Union Canal. By this time they had ceased to carry much industrial produce, having been usurped by rail and road transport and were largely used for leisure.

               Above: Barge at Three Bridges, Southall 

However, canals have carried passengers in the past. One service is known to have operated from Paddington to Greenford and Uxbridge and ran from 1801 to 1853. It set off daily in the summer mornings. It was a pleasure cruise rather than a serious passenger service in its later years, due to competition with the railways after 1838.

   Above: Canal Locks at Hanwell 


Photo; Good Train, West Ealing

    Above: Goods train at West Ealing 

The Great Western Railway Company had railway lines built from London Paddington to Bristol in 1835-1838. This line ran through the Thames Valley and there were stopping points at Ealing, Hanwell and Southall, these being the first three out of London. The first two opened in 1838 and the latter in 1839. Initially these stops had modest wooden structures serving as railway stations. The construction of the line had included the Wharncliffe Viaduct to take trains over the valley and was designed by Brunel. Ealing’s railway station was initially called Ealing Haven and changed to Ealing Broadway in 1875.

As time went by, more stations were added; Acton in 1868, Castle Hill and Ealing Dean (known as West Ealing in 1899) in 1871. At first there were very few stopping services; six to London in 1839 (and on Sundays only two), and westwards as far as Maidenhead and Slough services were even fewer. Fares were relatively high. In 1839 a first class single from Southall to Paddington was two shillings and six pence, but in 1906 were one shilling and two pence; however prices increased as time went by. The speed and number of services rose as time went on, however. An extension to Greenford via West Ealing was opened in 1903. Halts were established on the London to Buckinghamshire line at Perivale and Northolt at this time, too.

A branch line was built from Southall to Brentford in 1859, mainly to take goods to and from the Thames. The construction included the Windmill Bridge or the ‘Three Bridges’ in which road and canal cross over railway at a single point. The railway line later carried passengers from 1860 and there was a halt at Wyke Green in 1904. It was closed to passengers from 1915-1920 and when it resumed services were reduced. It eventually closed as passenger carrying service in 1942, but freight continued to use the line until the 1960s.

There was another branch line service at Southall in 1863, running to Victoria in the east to High Wycombe in the west. It ceased in 1915.

There was also the North and South Western Junction Railway, running from Richmond to north east London. Acton station was opened in 1853, later renamed Acton Central in 1925, and South Acton, opening in 1880, and originally named Mill Hill Park station. South Acton station featured heavily in an episode of the popular comedy drama series, Minder.

Photo of Mile Hill Park Station

                         Above: Mill Hill Park station 


London’s Underground railway system opened in 1863 with a short line from Paddington to Farringdon, named the Metropolitan Line. In 1879 The District Line extended as far westwards as Ealing and a new railway station was opened just to the north of the existing GWR one, just to the east of Haven Green. There was another station at Ealing Common. This was heralded in the local press as the second most important transport innovation in Ealing after the initial railway line of 1838, though initially services ceased early each night. There was the suggestion that the district line be extended to Uxbridge, which was opposed by the GWR and did not occur.

The Central London Tube, now the Central Line, opened in 1900 and work began in 1913 on an extension from Shepherd’s Bush to Ealing Broadway. War delayed progress and it was not completed until 1920, when it became the terminus of the western end of that line. Several years later stations were erected at West and North Acton. There was an extension to Ruislip via Perivale, Greenford and Northolt opened in 1948. Ealing underground station merged with the overland one in the 1960s, creating a new station whilst retaining the façade of the old District line station.

Finally there was the Piccadilly line which was extended from Hammersmith via Ealing Common in 1932 and from Acton to Hounslow in the following year.

Postcard of Ealing Common station, c.1900s

    Above: Ealing Common station, c.1900s 

Acton has the distinction of having more underground stations with its name in the title.

Electric Trams

In 1894 London United Tramway Ltd bought the assets of the previous tram company and was renamed The London United Electric Tramway Company aimed to construct a tramway from Shepherd’s Bush to Southall and run the latest electric trams along it. To do so they had to gain permission from the various councils along the proposed route. Whilst those of Acton, Hanwell and Southall were willing to do so, Ealing council was not and it took a lengthy campaign and several concessions, to persuade them to give the necessary authority. Agatha Christie later recalled the opposition in Ealing ‘Trams were common – they were noisy – everyone’s health would suffer’. The tramway opened in 1901 in a great blaze of publicity and was extended to Uxbridge in 1904. It was known as route number seven. Two years later there was a tram line, number 55, from Hanwell Broadway to Brentford along the Boston Road.

There was another tramline built along Horn Lane to Willesden, which opened in 1909 and was run by the Metropolitan Electric Tramways. A plan to build a tramway from Southall to Hounslow was abandoned because of opposition by Southall council, citing narrow roads and a weak railway bridge.

Tram on Ealing Common, 1900s

                    Above: Tram on Ealing Common, 1900s 

An Ealing resident recalled, ‘I liked the trams although of course it was a disadvantage that they set down and picked up passengers in the middle of the road. They had the advantage, though, that their stopping places were clearly marked’. However motorists disliked them because it was often difficult to pass a tram and there was the risk of skidding on tram lines in bad weather.

Competition from the motor buses from the 1910s ended the brief spell of prosperity for the tram company, despite speeding up journey times, more comfortable seating and fare rises in the 1920s. Single decker trams were introduced and some were one man trams. In 1931 a new class of trams, the Felthams, were introduced, which were far longer than the previous trams, could carry more passengers and were more comfortable. In 1933 the London Passenger Transport Board, now London Transport, took over all public transport in London and they wanted to scrap tram services.

Therefore, trams were replaced along the Uxbridge Road in 1936. Compared to their introduction in 1901 there was very little fanfare given to their replacements, the trolley buses, in 1936, only a brief reference in the local press.

At the beginning of the twenty first century there was a plan by Transport for London to introduce a West London Tramway (WLT) route along the Uxbridge Road. Supporters claimed it would cut car usage and thus congestion, be efficient and environmentally sound. Opponents claimed that these positive statements were exaggerated and that it would be problematic due to narrow streets and create rat runs of cars using side streets to avoid the tram route. The announcement by the government of Cross Rail to improve railway services in west London and beyond lead to the tramway system being dropped.

Proposed look of the West London Tram, 2000

                                                         Above: How the WLT service
                                                                      might have looked 

Trolley Buses

These had the appearance of motor buses fitted with trolley poles attached to overhead electric wires. They had been used in Twickenham in 1931 when they replaced trams. It was in 1936 that they replaced trams in this district. One Mr Goodlet wrote of them, ‘they are splendid vehicles, of course and uncannily quiet, but one regrets the passing of the old trams’. Their introduction seems to have been very uncontroversial. They provided a smoother ride than the trams and because they had reserve batteries the driver could make small deviations from the route if need be. Unlike trams they did not run on tracks in the road, but where wheeled and ran on electricity from overhead lines. However, they did not last long and began to be phased out in the 1950s to be replaced by motor buses. In 1962 the last trolley buses were withdrawn from service in this district.

Photo of trolley bus in Southall, 1960

              Above: Trolleybus outside Southall Town Hall, October 1960 

Motor Buses

Horses buses were not replaced for several years by motor buses because the London General Omnibus Company wanted to build up a fleet of these new buses. In 1908 they were running buses from Holborn to both Acton and Ealing, but to the latter only on Sundays. In the following decades, many new bus routes were introduced and many amended. Some ran for considerable distances, such as from Southall to Hither Green in south east London or from Ealing to London Bridge via Marble Arch. One of the oldest routes was that from Shepherd’s Bush to Uxbridge. Outlying districts such as Greenford were not on bus routes until the 1920s, due to the small population there. Some services ran only on Sundays or on weekdays.

There were very many bus operators, especially in the 1920s. The main company was the London Omnibus Company with its red buses. The others were far smaller businesses; many were simple a case of one man one bus and they would drive along the more profitable routes. They had distinct colours and their own names. They were particularly busy during the General Strike when the main bus company’s men were on strike. Some of these independents, or pirates, undercut their competitors and some drove dangerously too fast. They came to an end by 1934, incorporated into the single LTPB.

Photo of bus at Haven Green

                          Above: Bus at Haven Green station, 1990 


It was in 1896 that a horseless carriage was first seen on the Uxbridge Road and it was very much a novelty item. It belonged to John Sanders, owner of a major drapery store in Ealing and rides could be given in return for a small fee towards funding Ealing hospital. However, cars were soon seen as being potentially dangerous as their speeds increased and there was initially a speed limit of under twenty miles an hour. Cars were still a rarity in 1911 and in that year there was only one garage in Ealing. The increase in car ownership eventually became more noticeable in middle class districts, such as Ealing, and there was a rise in garages being built. During the General Strike of 1926 many Ealing motorists helped others get to work as many of the men who drove the trains, trams and buses were on strike. One man later claimed to have saved a great deal of money on fares by this means.

Far greater car ownership occurred in the later twentieth century. Car parks were built in order that cars could park for shopping purposes in central locations. In 1966, a lifelong Ealing resident wrote,

                     ‘in my opinion the greatest single change that has taken place in Ealing
                   is the increase in the amount of traffic…Not only has the traffic moving 
                   along the streets increased greatly, there has been an extraordinary 
                   increase in the number of parked cars’

In the 1970s and 1980s two large car parks opened in central Ealing, but there was less designated car parking space elsewhere in the borough. From 1971-2011 the percentage of households having one or more cars rose from 48% to 64%. Some people felt they did not need one, with a vicar’s daughter stating in 1990,

                    ‘We had managed without a car of our own. It wasn’t ideal, but living in
                     London we were able to survive on public transport’.

Photo of congestion on Pitshanger Lane, 1980s.

                          Above: Congestion on Pitshanger Lane, 1980s. 

In 1998, CPZs have been introduced to attempt to ease congested parking streets where the bulk of the borough’s houses had been built without garages as car ownership continued to rise. This has restricted the right of motorists to park on street and led to residents having to purchase permits to park outside their own homes. This has proved controversial.


There was an aerodrome in north Acton just before the First World War in which would be aviators would receive lessons. It was one of the first in the country and was known as the London Aviation Ground. During the First World War pilots trained here as a Flying School was established. Afterwards the Alliance Aeroplane Company had a factory on the site to make parts for aircraft. Fields in Park Royal and Hanger Hill were also used by flyers in the 1900s. Despite an RAF base being termed Northolt, it was actually outside Northolt and in Ruislip.

Photo of Flying School in Acton, 1917

    Above: Flying School at Acton, 1917 


Cycling is both a recreational activity and a means of getting to work. In Ealing in 1910 there was the West Ealing Ramblers’ Cycling Club and in Hanwell there was the Belle Vue Cycling Club. It was also used as a means of getting to work. This was especially popular in the 1920s and 1930s before the age of mass car ownership as workers cycled to the factories they were employed at. By 2011, however, less than three per cent of journeys to work were made by bicycle. Ealing Council has attempted to make the borough more cycle friendly by installing places for cycles to be safely secured on the edge of Haven Green.

Photo of Thomas Bryant, proprietor of cycling shop on The Mall, 1890s.

               Above: Thomas Bryant, proprietor of cycling shop on The Mall, 1890s. 


The development of transport in this district has had many effects. It has allowed people to travel far more easily and quicker. This has meant that people can work further afield and has led to the integration of places such as Ealing with what has become greater London. Housing and population soared in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and in part this is due to developments in transport, especially trains and trams, though it did not happen immediately. 

There have also been negative impacts in the form of accidents and disasters. The Western Avenue was built in the 1930s and helped stimulate industrial development and increased housing in Greenford and Perivale. But it also led to an increase of people being injured or killed by motorised transport. In 1951, 30 people died in road accidents in Acton alone, by the far the largest cause of ‘unnatural’ deaths, though by 1960 this had fallen to seven.

Better known, though cumulatively less deadly, were two major railway disasters in the late twentieth century. There was a crash near West Ealing station in 1973 in which ten people lost their lives. In 1997 six people were killed in another collision between trains in Southall.

Photo of Ealing Railway crash, 1974

    Above: Aftermath of railway crash at Ealing, 1974 

Further reading

William Philpott, 'Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice of the Somme' (2009)

A.Faulkner,  'Grand Junction Canal' , (1972)

Brian H. Gilham,  ‘Transport in Southall and District’, Transactions of the Southall Historical Society, no. 1, (1959).

R.N.G. Rowlands, 'Acton A-Z', (1994).

C.S. Smeeton, 'London United Tramways Company, vols 1 and 2', (1994), (2000)

P. Whitehouse, 'Great Western Railway', (1984).