The Steel family of Northfields

Paul Fitzmaurice describes the little known Steel family of Northfields whose development of the area resulted in many of the street names we know today

Up until the twentieth century the district we now know as Northfields was virtually all fields with a muddy track called Northfield Lane joining the hamlets of Little Ealing and Ealing Dean (or West Ealing). It formed part of the ancient Manor of Coldhall and for centuries was devoted to arable farming and latterly market gardens. During the course of the 19th century the Steel family came to lease much of the area as market gardeners.

The end of the 19th century saw a dramatic increase in Ealing's population largely occasioned by improved public transport to London - the Metropolitan District Railway to Ealing and Hounslow and of course the coming of the trams along the Uxbridge Road in 1901. Mindful of the opportunities this afforded them, the Steel family began to buy up the land occupied by their market gardens and entered into building development. Among the landowners they brought from were Marder and Loveday resulting in today's street names and latterly parts of the larger Elers estate (of which Carew was a family name).

The Steel market gardening association is apparent in the South Marder estate names of Bramley, Wellington and Julien roads - all types of apple trees and a little further north Hessel Road, a pear tree. It is quite probable that these fruit trees were grown in the Steel market gardens. Another market gardener at this time further north round the Uxbridge Road was Charles Lee & Son - hence Leeland Road and Terrace.

The most prominent of the Steel family was Charles Steel (1838 - 1911) who led a very active life, travelling widely seeking specimens for his market gardens. He even got as far afield as Australia and seemed to have a particular affinity for that country. This accounts for the number of Australian road names in the West Ealing area just south of the Uxbridge Road - Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane roads together with Melbourne Avenue. These were known collectively as the St Kilda estate - St Kilda itself being a suburb of Melbourne. Charles Steel was described as a strong Conservative and represented that party on Ealing Council when it became a municipal borough in 1901. When road names were required for the Marder estate various contemporary Victorian conservative politicians of that time must have sprung to mind - Balfour, Chamberlain and Salisbury roads.

Despite all these associations the only tangible memory of the Steel family is their fruitpacking warehouse which still stands on the corner of Northcroft and Northfield Road. Having served as a warehouse for the old John Sanders shop it is now listed and remains in residential and commercial use.