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HERE AND THERE IN HACKNEY

Let's explore parts of Haggerston and Hoxton, and take a wander along a part of the Regent's Canal

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The Regents Canal was once used for industry and transport, and is now used mainly for leisure pursuits. It passes through areas of London, which are somewhat bleak at first glance, but, on closer examination, can be seen to have some endearing features. This exploration takes us mainly through Hoxton and Haggerston - parts of London between Islington and Hackney, which were mainly rural until the late 18th century.

In 1745, Hoxton was beginning to develop on the edge of London to the west of the Kingsland Road (the Roman ‘Ermine Street’). Haggerston was a tiny hamlet slightly to the east of this thoroughfare and north of Hoxton. By the 1820s, both districts contained stretches of the recently constructed Regent’s Canal. This waterway, whose construction began in 1812, facilitated local industry and the building of warehouses.

Both Hoxton and Haggerston appear in the 11th century Domesday Book, and are now part of Hackney. Although both names end in ‘ton’, this suffix has different meanings in each case (see: “Oxford Dictionary of London Place Names”, by AD Mills, publ. 2001). Hoxton is derived from the Old English name ‘Hoc’ and the word for farmstead ‘tun’’, giving the name a meaning like ‘farmstead or estate of Hoc’. Haggerston, which appears in the Domesday Book as ‘Hergotestane’, is derived from the name (early Christian in origin) of a man, ‘Haergod’ and an Old English word meaning ‘boundary stone (of someone’s land)’. Thus, Haggerston means something like ‘Haergod’s boundary stone’. Until the 16th century, when Hoxton began to be occupied by Londoners expanding into the countryside, both places were rural. Throughout the 17th century, Haggerston remained an area of countryside, where some wealthy gentlemen had out-of-town residences.

De Beauvoir Sq

De Beauvoir Sq

De Beauvoir Sq

De Beauvoir Sq

We start at De Beauvoir Town, a housing estate whose development coincided with the opening of the Regents Canal. Just west of the Kingsland Road, this residential area is centred on De Beauvoir Square, a lovely open space surrounded by attractive grey brick houses with elaborately curved gables. Building was begun in 1821 by brick-maker William Rhodes (1774-1843), a grandfather of the colonialist Cecil Rhodes. Construction ceased in 1823, when a court determined that Rhodes had illegally acquired the lease for the De Beauvoir’s land. After the trial had run on for twenty years, the land reverted to the De Beauvoir family, and development recommenced. Houses were built there for the up and coming ‘middle classes’.

St Peter De Beauvoir

St Peter De Beauvoir

The Victorian gothic St Peters church stands south-east of the square on De Beauvoir Road. It was designed by WC Lochner (c. 1779-1861) who was born in what is now Libya (see: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cheyne/p20418.htm), and built by 1841. It was constructed to “enhance the character and add lustre to the new estate” (see: http://www.stpeterdebeauvoir.org.uk/history-of-st-peters/).

St James Cottages 1845  De Beauvoir Rd

St James Cottages 1845 De Beauvoir Rd

De Beauvoir Rd north of Downham Rd

De Beauvoir Rd north of Downham Rd

The part of De Beauvoir Road north of Downham Road is lined with two-storey homes built in the 19th century. The row called ‘St James Cottages’ is dated 1845.

De Beauvoir Rd south of Downham Rd

De Beauvoir Rd south of Downham Rd

South of Downham Road, there is a council estate built in the 1960s and ‘70s. It includes one high-rise tower and several lower buildings, all of which make a stark contrast to the prettier buildings north of Downham Road. The estate stretches almost as far south as the Regents Canal.

SAE Institute De Beauvoir Crescent

SAE Institute De Beauvoir Crescent

The AEI Group (an independent music business) occupies the Bankstock Building on De Beauvoir Crescent close to the Whitmore Road bridge. Overlooking the canal, this building looks like a modern conversion of an earlier industrial or stage building. In fact, it was originally built in the 1930s, and has had a lightweight modern structure built above its original roof (see: http://www.elliottwood.co.uk/project/bankstock-building-de-beauvoir-crescent-london-n1/).

Regents Canal looking west from Whitmore Rd Bridge

Regents Canal looking west from Whitmore Rd Bridge

Whitmore Rd Bridge over Regents Canal

Whitmore Rd Bridge over Regents Canal

From the Whitmore Bridge, there are good views along the Regents Canal. The bridge, single-arched and built of brick, is a typical example of Georgian canal bridge-building. A staircase leads down to the towpath. Descend this to enter another world – a peaceful contrast to the urban environment on either side of the canal. The canal is lined in places with moored canal barges (‘narrowboats’). The occasional narrowboat chugs past, often with its ‘skipper’ with one hand on the tiller, and the other holding either a mobile ‘phone or a glass of an alcoholic beverage. The old towpath, beautifully maintained, is a busy place. Cyclists and joggers compete with walkers for space on it.

Plant covered building Regents Canal

Plant covered building Regents Canal

Entry to Kingsland Basin

Entry to Kingsland Basin

Walking eastwards, we pass a greenish modern apartment block overlooking the canal. Much of its façade - its balcony rails and supporting pillars - are literally alive: a dense tangle of plants sprouts from panels of planters, looking like vertical plots of garden, attached to them. This building is a fine example of a ‘living wall’, currently fashionable in current architecture. Further east, the towpath crosses a metal bridge, which straddles an inlet of the canal: the Kingsland Basin. The basin dates from the early 1820s, when it began being used for mooring vessels next to industrial establishments. One of the earliest of these, opened in 1823, made tents (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol10/pp33-35). In the 19th century, the area close between De Beauvoir Crescent and the basin was occupied by very poor people. Today, things have changed. The Basin, in which pleasure craft are moored, is now surrounded by luxurious recently-built apartment buildings.

Kingsland Basin

Kingsland Basin

Graffiti just west of Kingsland Rd

Graffiti just west of Kingsland Rd

One of the features that I enjoyed along the canal is the abundance of often luridly coloured graffiti, much of it skilfully executed. I cannot guarantee that what I saw in September 2017 will remain unchanged, or is even there now. Such is the transient nature of this art-form. However, I am sure that there will be some for you to enjoy when you follow my path.

Kingsland Road bridge over Regents Canal

Kingsland Road bridge over Regents Canal

Passing under the brick Kingsland Road Bridge, which has an interesting contemporary iron railing on its west side and whose span is both wider and higher span than the one at Whitlock Road, it is difficult to believe that you have just been beneath one of London’s busier thoroughfares. The tow path, lined with vegetation on one side and the slow-moving, almost motionless, canal on the other, is a peaceful haven wending its way through bustling ‘inner city’ areas. The canal is a world apart from the city surrounding it. A concrete suspension bridge of recent construction carries the lines of the Overground railway across the canal.

Railway bridge south of Haggerston Station

Railway bridge south of Haggerston Station

Haggerston Rd Bridge

Haggerston Rd Bridge

Cormorant near Haggerston

Cormorant near Haggerston

After passing beneath the brick built, narrow Haggerston Bridge (built about 1816-1820), which carries Haggerston Road across the canal, I spotted a cormorant perched on a moored narrow boat. Its wings were spread out widely to dry them in the sun. The north wall of the arch of the bridge is notched in several places. These grooves were caused by the friction of the horse-drawn barge tow-ropes against the abutment.

Acton Lock

Acton Lock

East of the Haggerston Bridge, the level of the canal drops by about eight feet in the Acton’s Lock. It was named after the Hackney land-owner, Nathaniel Lee Acton (1757-1836; of Livermere Park and Bramford in Suffolk), through whose land (agricultural fields, market gardens, and nursery grounds) the canal was built (see: http://planningdocs.hackney.gov.uk/NorthgatePublicDocs/00049992.pdf). Acton’s portrait was painted by the celebrated George Romney (1734-1802) in about 1787 (see: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2006/shrubland-park-suffolk-england-country-house-sale-l06501/lot.294.html)

Cat and Mutton Bridge

Cat and Mutton Bridge

A few yards east of the lock, the canal is crossed by the Cat and Mutton Bridge, which carries Pritchard Road across the canal. This bridge might have been named after the pub with the same name, which is about 250 yards north of the canal. The pub (aka ‘Cat & Shoulder of Mutton’) was in existence by 1745, long before the canal was constructed. Whatever the origin of its name, the present bridge, which is lined beneath with steel girders, is newer than the smaller brick bridges, which were built at the time of the canal’s construction.

Gasometer on Regents Canal near Pritchard Rd

Gasometer on Regents Canal near Pritchard Rd

From the bridge, there is a fine view of some gasometers east of it. The construction of the canal facilitated the transport of fuels including coal. The Imperial Gas Company, founded by 1829, owned a plot, where these gasometers now stand, and another on the west side of the bridge south of the canal. This branch of the company supplied gas to Tottenham and Edmonton as early as 1840 (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_Light_and_Coke_Company#Shoreditch).

Broadway Mkt

Broadway Mkt

Broadway Market (named thus in 1937) to the north of the bridge was the site of a marketplace, which was already active in the 1830s. Close to Acton’s Lock, it was a place where barge-workers could obtain provisions. Today, this widened stretch of road is beginning to go ‘upmarket’, as property values in an area so close to the City rise.

After crossing the bridge, Pritchard Road continues straight south-west for a few yards before turning southwards at its junction with Goldsmiths Row. This was formerly part of Mutton Lane that led up to, and beyond the Cat and Mutton pub (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol5/pp505-524). The present name is derived from the existence of some alms-houses (first constructed in 1703 for poor employees of the Goldsmiths’ Company). Marked on a detailed 1872 map, they do not appear on a similar map drawn 22 years later, nor on later editions of the same scale Ordnance Survey maps.

Former Albion pub, Goldsmiths Row

Former Albion pub, Goldsmiths Row

The fake half-timbered pub, The Albion, a haunt of West Bromwich football team fans stands on a corner plot on Goldsmiths Row. Well, at least it did when I passed it in September 2017. By then, it had been closed for several months (see: https://www.hackneycitizen.co.uk/2017/06/12/the-albion-closed-shoreditch-west-bromwich/), and was awaiting renovation by its new owners, who plan to open a new establishment to be called ‘The Virgin Queen’. The pub had been in business as ‘The Albion’ for about twenty years. The sign that used to adorn the pub has been removed (by a former fan of the establishment) to reveal the words “West’s Brewery Co. Ltd.”, a Hackney brewery which dated back to 1822 (see: http://www.breweryhistory.com/journal/archive/124_5/Wests.pdf). Before being called ‘The Albion’, it was named ‘The Duke of Sussex’. The building housing it was constructed in the 1920s.

Sebright primary School Audrey Str

Sebright primary School Audrey Str

Sebright primary School Audrey Str

Sebright primary School Audrey Str

Sebright primary School Audrey Str

Sebright primary School Audrey Str

Audrey Street leads off Goldsmiths Row towards a 19th century school building, constructed with red bricks and many gables, bearing the date “1873” and a carved stone with the words “Maidstone Street Haggerston School”. It was designed in the ‘Queen Anne’ style by CH Mileham (1837-1917) and his partner, a Mr Kennedy, for the Hackney Division of the School Board for London, and later (1894) extended by TJ Bailey (see: https://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101392464-sebright-primary-school-including-former-schoolkeepers-house-and-cookery-centre-haggerston-ward#.WgwpPGi0OM8). It was one of the first schools built by the School Board of London under the provisions of the Elementary Education Act of 1870. This Act ensured that local school boards were set-up to provide compulsory education for children aged five to twelve years. Fees were paid by parents who could afford them. Fees for children whose parents were unable to afford them were paid by the boards. Today, Maidstone Street no longer exists, and the school has been renamed Sebright Primary School.

Haggerston Park BMX track

Haggerston Park BMX track

Haggerston Park

Haggerston Park

Haggerston Park

Haggerston Park

Haggerston Park is reached a few yards along Goldsmiths’ Row to the south of the school. This irregularly shaped, pleasant green open space includes a BMX cycle track, paths through wooded areas, a lovely pond, and playing fields. The northern part of the park, which reaches up to Whiston Street is built on the site of part of the gasworks that was destroyed by a V2 bomb in 1944. The rest of the park was built where once there had been an area of derelict housing. The park’s creation began in the 1950s.

Hackney City Farm

Hackney City Farm

The southernmost section of the park is occupied by Hackney City Farm (established 1984). Of all the so-called city farms that I have seen so far, this one has excited me least. To its credit, it does include a nice flower garden amongst its attractions. According to old detailed maps, the large brick building that stands within the farm, and to which an old cobbled lane leads, was once a brewery: ‘Three Crowns Brewery’, a part of West’s company (see above). The former Boston Street marked on old maps) has become a path through the farm.

St Peters Betnnal Green

St Peters Betnnal Green

St Peters Betnnal Green

St Peters Betnnal Green

If you are visiting the area on a Sunday morning and enjoy street markets, then the following detour is worth taking. Cross the Hackney Road, and enter Ion Square Gardens. This small open space is on the site of Ion Square, which was surrounded by small houses built around a private communal garden in about 1845. Following extensive bombing in WW2, the gardens were enlarged to form the present park in the 1960s. The church of St Peters Bethnal Green stands near the south-east corner of the gardens. Its grey colour is due to its facing with flint. Built 1840-41, it was designed by Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871). Its spacious nave has a plain ceiling supported by an elaborate wooden structure reminiscent of hammer-beam roofs.

Mander organ factory old school entrance

Mander organ factory old school entrance

Mander organ factory

Mander organ factory

The church shares a courtyard with another Victorian building. It houses Mander’s organ factory. A doorway leading into the factory has a carved stone above it, which reads “infants”, suggesting that once there was a school on this site. This is confirmed by referring to old maps. Noel Mander, who died in 2005, began his company in 1936. In 1947, the company moved into the disused school, which was built in the 1840s.

St Peters church hall

St Peters church hall

The brick and stone building on Warner Place (near the church), whose external appearance has a Tudor ‘flavour’, is St Peter’s Church Hall. It was built in 1912.

Barnet Grove

Barnet Grove

Elwin Str by Jesus Green

Elwin Str by Jesus Green

Jesus Green

Jesus Green

Durant Street leads south from Ion Square Gardens, passing a series of streets with neat two storey terraced dwellings, which were built in the mid-19th century. Wimbolt Street, which is one of these, leads to the triangular Jesus Green, a grassy space with several trees. This is in the centre of an area which was developed between 1822 and ’62 on land, which had once been farmland. The land had been owned by the trustees of Jesus Hospital in Chipping Barnet since 1689 (see: https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/Documents/Planning-and-building-control/Development-control/Conservation-areas/Jesus-HospitalV1.pdf). In the 1820s, it was planned to use this to rehouse some of the eleven thousand people left homeless when their homes were demolished to create St Katharine’s Dock. After several ill-fated attempts to develop the area, the present streets were laid out in the 1860s.

Columbia Market school

Columbia Market school

Quilter Street runs west along the south side of Jesus Green to reach Ravencroft Street, which soon crosses Columbia Road. The Columbia Market Nursery School has its signage both in English and Bengali. It stands on part of the site of the reputedly magnificent Victorian gothic Columbia Market complex, which was built in 1859 and callously demolished in 1958. Geoffrey Fletcher wrote of this building in his “The London Nobody Knows” (publ. 1962):
“No verbal description could convey the strangeness and unlikelihood of it all – that great place like a mediaeval cloth hall, with a gatehouse and cloisters. The building (also by HA Darbishire) … had atall tower; its interior was a mass of tall piers, vaults, and tracery, and full of carved inscriptions”

Leopold Buildings

Leopold Buildings

Banana flower Columbia Road

Banana flower Columbia Road

The school faces a row of 19th century tenements built of brick and stone with cast-iron balconies and bow windows. These are the Leopold Buildings constructed by The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company in 1872. East of the school, there are less attractive mid-20th century blocks of flats, outside one of which I spotted a flowering banana plant – a rare sight in London. The Royal Horticultural Society notes that although bananas are generally delicate plants, some species are hardy enough to survive in parts of the UK where winters are mild (see: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=311).

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road Flower Market

School mosaic in Columbia Road Flower Market

School mosaic in Columbia Road Flower Market

The stretch of Columbia Road east of Ravenscroft Street comes alive on Sunday mornings with a busy flower market. Lined by shops and a school, the street is crammed full of people viewing, and buying from a series of plant and flower vendors manning their temporary stalls. I found this popular market somewhat claustrophobic because of the seething mass of people attending it. Originally, this market was held on Saturdays, but it was moved to Sundays to allow Jewish traders to work without disturbing their Sabbath. The horticultural focus of the market originated in the 1960s, but the local interest in flowers can be traced back to the 17th century when the Huguenot refugees encouraged an interest in flower buying and selling to the area. The outer walls of the Columbia Primary School have been decorated with mosaics, which can just about be seen behind the stalls and crowds on Sundays.

Former Queen Elizabeth Hospital Hackney Road

Former Queen Elizabeth Hospital Hackney Road

Columbia Road runs to Hackney Road close to the Hackney City Farm. To the east of the farm, stands the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children, which functioned between 1867 and 1996 (see: http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/queenelizabethhackney.html). The building was commenced in 1870, and enlarged later. Its façade has been preserved, but the rest of the structure has been redeveloped for residential use.

St Saviours Priory Yorkton Str

St Saviours Priory Yorkton Str

Yorkton Street, a cul-de-sac, leads from Hackney Road to Haggerston Park. On its west side, there is a brick building with a stone crucifix attached to it just beneath the roof. This is the rear of St Saviour’s Priory (Church of England), which was founded by Dr John Mason Neale (1818-66) in 1855. It is an order of women dedicated to caring for the sick. The present buildings date from the 1970s, when the original late 1880’s premises were demolished.

Former Odeon cinema on  Hackney Road at Dawson Str

Former Odeon cinema on Hackney Road at Dawson Str

Dunloe Street, which crosses Yorkton, leads to Dawson Street. On the corner of the latter and Hackney Road, there stands a derelict cinema building in the art-deco style. This was an Odeon cinema, which was designed by Andrew Mather (1891-1938), who created many cinemas for the Odeon company. It opened in 1938. In 1961, it became a bingo hall, which closed its doors finally in 2015 (see: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/13886). The building’s fate remains undecided.

Graffiti 199 Hackney Rd

Graffiti 199 Hackney Rd

201 and 203 Hackney Road are set back a little from their neighbours. The walls on both sides of the ‘inlet’ were covered in weird graffiti when I saw them in September 2017.

St Marys Secret Garden

St Marys Secret Garden

St Marys Secret Garden

St Marys Secret Garden

St Marys Secret Garden

St Marys Secret Garden

West of these, Weymouth Street leads back to Dunloe Street. Appleby Street runs north from the latter to reach the entrance to St Mary’s Secret Garden. Originally created for, and by, people with experience of mental stress, this delightful small garden - a peaceful oasis - is open to the public. Its small area is divided into several different types of garden. This creates the impression that it is much larger than it is. Paths inlaid with occasional mosaics thread their way between beds of flowers and plants and a tiny ‘wild’ woodland area.

Rear of St Chads

Rear of St Chads

St Chads

St Chads

St Chads

St Chads

St Chads

St Chads

Continuing west along Dunloe Street, we reach a large red brick church with gothic windows, a grey tiled roof, and a short pyramidical steeple. This is St Chads, a cruciform building which was built 1867-69 to the designs of James Brooks (1825-1901). Its brick and stone interior is magnificent. It nave is supported by brick walls punctuated by sweeping gothic arches lined with stone frames. The roof of the nave has a hemi-circular, almost barrel-vaulted wooden ceiling. The interior of this Anglo-Catholic church has a great feeling of space and lightness. When it was built, the church stood amongst the picturesque mock Tudor villas of Nichols Square, all of which were demolished in the early 1960s (see: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2013/02/16/the-haggerston-nobody-knows/).

Hoxton Station WW1 memorial

Hoxton Station WW1 memorial

Passing under the railway arches just west of St Chads, we reach Hoxton station. Outside it, there is a WW1 memorial in white stone. It is dedicated to the memory of the North London railwaymen who fell in the Great War. Geffrye Street runs south to Cremer Street, which runs west to meet Kingsland Road. Many of the buildings in this precinct are covered with attention-grabbing graffiti in vivid colours.

Graffiti near Hoxton Station

Graffiti near Hoxton Station

Graffiti near Hoxton Station

Graffiti near Hoxton Station

Graffiti near Hoxton Station

Graffiti near Hoxton Station

The last point on this exploration is the Geffrye Museum. This is housed in the central section of the alms-houses that surround three sides of a large rectangular green open space. The alms-houses, which are in an immaculate state of preservation, were built in 1714, funded by money bequeathed by Sir Robert Geffrye (1613-1703). His statue stands above the doorway to the centrally positioned chapel.

Geffrye statue

Geffrye statue

Geffrye alms-houses chapel

Geffrye alms-houses chapel

Geffrye Museum courtyard

Geffrye Museum courtyard

A pathway leads through a small cemetery to the north east of the grounds, around to the back of the long central portion of the building. There, behind the alms-houses, and close to the elevated railway tracks, is a series of gardens, each one planted to illustrate a phase in the history of English gardening. There is also a herb garden.

Geffrye Museum one of the garden layouts

Geffrye Museum one of the garden layouts

Inside Geffrye Museum

Inside Geffrye Museum

Inside Geffrye Museum

Inside Geffrye Museum

The museum is designed to illustrate the history of domestic life between 1600 and the present. This is done beautifully by a series of rooms, each one decorated and furnished appropriately for the period being demonstrated. Each room is convincing, which should not be surprising because all the furniture is original as are some of the walls and ceilings, which have been removed from actual homes that were to be demolished.

Geoffrye Museum

Geoffrye Museum

Geoffrey Museum art deco

Geoffrey Museum art deco

Geoffrye Museum extension

Geoffrye Museum extension

Geoffrye Museum room overlooking garden

Geoffrye Museum room overlooking garden

At the south end of the museum, there is a modern extension with a circular section around which there are several re-creations of rooms from the 20th century. The new section also contains a café and a shop. At the rear of the central section of the alms-houses, there is a reading room with large windows that overlook the gardens.

Old ad for Blooms pianos south side Geffrye Museum

Old ad for Blooms pianos south side Geffrye Museum

High above the south-west corner of the Geffrye Museum grounds, I noticed a fading painted wall advertisement. It bears a telephone number “Bishopsgate 9087 “. This system of telephone numbers was introduced in the early 1920s and abandoned in the 1960s, which means the sign must have been made in that period. It was painted on the bricks to promote Blooms Pianos, which used to be available at 134 Kingsland Road, where this walk ends.

This exploration passes through parts of London, which were hardly developed before the early 19th century. Part of this development was due to the construction of the Regents Canal, and the rest to natural urban expansion in line with population increase. Once a poor area of London, much of what is discussed above is rapidly becoming both more fashionable and more expensive to live in. The southern part of Hoxton around Hoxton Square, which I have not described, is currently very ‘trendy’ and a vibrant area at night.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road Flower Market

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 02:56 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london canal graffiti regents_canal hoxton hackney haggerston Comments (5)

WANDERING AROUND WEMBLEY: NOT SIMPLY SOCCER

There is far more to Wembley than simply soccer!

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the construction of London’s local railways, notably the Metropolitan Line, improved access between the centre of the city and places that were open countryside before the rails were laid. The builders of the Metropolitan Line kept hold of land along it which was surplus to the construction of the railway lines. This extra land was developed for housing purposes, thus ensuring a supply of passengers who would need the Metropolitan to commute to and from their workplaces. To sell housing, the railway company developed the concept of ‘Metro-land’, which was to promote the idea of living in idyllic rustic surroundings close to London. However, as Oliver Green writes in his introduction to a modern (1987) facsimile of the promotional literature “Metro-land, 1932 edition”:
“The notion of Metro-land as a ‘rural Arcadia’ certainly no longer matched the suburban reality of Wembley Park or Rayners Lane…”

Ealing Rd, Wembley

Ealing Rd, Wembley

In the late 19th century, the concept of the ‘Garden City’ and the ‘Garden Suburb’ was developed following the ideas proposed by Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928). In brief, his idea was to create communities in which homes, workplaces, and nature were perfectly balanced. This resulted in the creation in London of, for example, Hampstead Garden Suburb (initiated 1904), which is both visually entrancing and well-blended with greenery. This ideal was abandoned later in the 1920s when many of the suburbs contained in ‘Metro-land’ were developed. Architectural variety gave way to mass-produced buildings based on very few patterns, many of which looked identical; and the balance between urbanisation and greenery became minimal. The resulting suburbs, of which most of Wembley is a good example, became lay-outs containing streets lined with houses that were barely distinguishable from one another – a featureless sea of suburbia.
This piece includes an exploration of what, if anything, is left of ‘rural Arcadia’ in the vast suburban sea that covers Wembley and its surroundings.

View of Wembley Stadium from Stonebridge Park Stn

View of Wembley Stadium from Stonebridge Park Stn

Stonebridge Park Station is close to both the North Circular Road and the River Brent, which flows besides it. The name ‘Stonebridge’ is derived from the stone bridge over the river at this location, built between 1660 and 1700, see: http://www.brentmuseumandarchive.org.uk.gridhosted.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Stonebridge.pdf). It was considered unusual at that time because most of the crossings of the Brent were wooden. In the 1870s, developers started erecting villas for professional men and their families in an estate called ‘Stonebridge Park’. By the late 19th century, houses were being built in the area for people with lower incomes than the professionals in the estate. The station stands surrounded by desolate landscape that includes the busy circular road as well as a few high-rise buildings, some of which look derelict or unused. From the station, there is a good view of the soaring arch that spans the not-too-distant Wembley Stadium. In addition, there are plenty of streets lined with two-storey residential building of barely any architectural merit.

Point Place leads from the station to the Harrow Road - a thoroughfare that has linked Paddington and Harrow for several centuries. Point Place crosses a short narrow channel lined with concrete walls.

Wembley Brook at Stonebridge Park Stn

Wembley Brook at Stonebridge Park Stn

This contains a small stretch of Wembley Brook, a tiny tributary of the River Brent. After crossing Harrow Road, it is a short distance to Brent River Park, also known as ‘Tokyngton Recreation Ground’. Tokyngton means ‘the farm of the sons of Toca’ (see: http://www.brent-heritage.co.uk/tokyngton.htm). The name was first recorded in 1171, and in mediaeval times it was the most populous part of the parish of Harrow.

South entrance to Tokyngton recreation ground

South entrance to Tokyngton recreation ground

Tokyngton recreation ground sculpture

Tokyngton recreation ground sculpture

The long narrow park contains a stretch of the River Brent, which winds through it. By the entrance near to Monks Park Gardens, there is a sculpture in the form of a stone with carvings on it. This is near a well-equipped playground. When I visited it, most of the children playing on it were young girls wearing Islamic head-coverings.

Southern bridge over the Brent at Tokyngton recreation ground

Southern bridge over the Brent at Tokyngton recreation ground

River Brent at Tokyngton recreation ground

River Brent at Tokyngton recreation ground

There is a substantial bridge across the Brent close to the playground. A path snakes its way northwards, often quite close to the tree- and bush-lined river banks. Another bridge crosses the river about halfway along the length of the park.

River Brent from middle bridge in Tokyngton recreation ground

River Brent from middle bridge in Tokyngton recreation ground

This bridge, smaller than the southernmost one, is close to a clearing which contains something that could easily be mistaken for an abstract sculpture by Anthony Caro.

Climate Pavilion, Tokyngton recreation ground

Climate Pavilion, Tokyngton recreation ground

This was built in 2012. It is: “A pavilion which outlines the dangers of climate change while offering residents a place to shelter … The pavilion, which was suggested by the Friends of Brent River Park, has a sustainable urban drainage system for when the park experiences flooding … The structure can also be used by Brent schools as an outdoor classroom for pupils to study and understand climate change and environmental issues in a natural setting.” (see: http://www.kilburntimes.co.uk/news/environment/pavilion-which-is-an-outdoor-classroom-is-unveiled-in-wembley-park-1-1333284). Although only a few years after its inauguration, now in 2017, heavily oxidised, it looks as if it is past its best, but it makes for an intriguing sculptural form.

Oakington Manor Drive Wembley

Oakington Manor Drive Wembley

Walking through the park, it is at times difficult to believe that this rustic-looking area is so very close to monotonous rows of suburban residences. A short walk from the pavilion, and you are plunged into neat suburban streets. The local roads are narrow, reflecting the paucity of traffic during the inter-war years when they were laid out. Then, car ownership was low compared to today. The long Oakington Manor Drive (mostly built between 1914 and 1932; there was an ‘Oakington Farm’ marked on both 1761 and 1873 maps), like all of the residential streets nearby, is lined with houses, many of them decorated with fake half-timbering on their facades. This artifice, according to Michael Robbins writing in “Middlesex” (first publ. 1953), was: “… to inform the observer that the house was not built by a local council…”, but, instead, was paid for by its owner. Several houses had strings of faded bunting above their front doors. Maybe, these were the homes of Hindus who often decorate the entrances to their homes with ‘thoran’ (these are often also in the form of leaves or small dried fruits or peppers). Oakington Manor Drive leads towards the centre of Wembley, where many people with origins in the Indian subcontinent reside.

Sherrins Farm Open Space

Sherrins Farm Open Space

Post Office Tower from Sherrins Farm Open Space

Post Office Tower from Sherrins Farm Open Space

A short lane leads from Oakington Manor Drive to Sherrins Farm Open Space, a large triangular grassy area on the south facing slope of a hill. This is in the place marked as ‘Oakington Farm’ on maps drawn before WW2. ‘Oakington’ might well be phonetically related to ‘Tokyngton’. The two names are used interchangeably to denote the same area. ‘Sherrins’ was the name of the farm during the last few decades of its rural existence (see: http://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/tokyngton/).

View of Wembley Stadium from Sherrins Farm Open Space

View of Wembley Stadium from Sherrins Farm Open Space

It is a good place to get a view, unobstructed by construction cranes, of the exterior of the new Wembley Stadium. Within sight of the stadium, there were young boys playing football on the small park. Maybe in the future some of them will be playing in the nearby world-famous stadium. The Open Space also provides good views of central London.

St Josephs RC Church Wembley

St Josephs RC Church Wembley

St Josephs RC Church Wembley

St Josephs RC Church Wembley

Oakington Manor Drive meets the Harrow Road just before it becomes Wembley High Road. Near this point, stands the tall brick-built tower of St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. Designed by Reynolds and Adrian Gilbert Scott (1882-1963; grandson of Sir George Gilbert Scott), it was built between 1955 and ’57. Its interior is very dramatic. Arches straddle the nave, and between them there are circular concavities, like the interiors of domes.

Wembley Staium Station bridge

Wembley Staium Station bridge

A main road, Wembley Hill, begins opposite St Josephs. A pedestrian way leads off this road at an acute angle, passing over a modern suspension bridge over the railway station (Wembley Stadium Station) beneath it. Beyond the bridge looms Wembley Stadium. The current building designed by Norman Foster’s architectural firm was completed in 2007. Its distinguishing feature, which can be seen from many points in north London is a steel arch: a lattice of criss-crossing steel rods that spans the stadium like a rainbow. Its purpose is to support the weight of much of the stadiums roofing.

Wembley Stadium detail

Wembley Stadium detail

The present stadium stands on the site of a much older one built in 1923, which was demolished by 2003. The older stadium, which was first named ‘British Empire Exhibition Stadium’, was built as part of the British Empire Exhibition of 1924–25. When, to many people’s dismay, this much-loved landmark in the world of British and International soccer was demolished, the rubble was collected together and used to construct four artificial grass-covered hills next to the A40 road near Northolt. These hills, the burial mounds of the old stadium, form the ‘Northala Fields’ country park.

Corner Wembley High Road and Ealing Road

Corner Wembley High Road and Ealing Road

Jewellery shop Ealing Road

Jewellery shop Ealing Road

Ealing Road begins on Wembley High Road a few bus-stops west of St Josephs. Sanghamam vegetarian restaurant sits at the union (‘sangham’ in some Indian languages) of Ealing Road and the High Road. It offers what in India would be described as ‘multicuisine’ – that is food from a variety of widely differing gastronomic traditions (in Sanghamam’s case, this includes Gujarati, Punjabi, Sri Lankan, and Chinese). The restaurant’s signage is in several scripts including English, Hindi, Gujarati, and Tamil. A short way down Ealing Road, is the first of many jewellery shops along this street. A display of gold necklaces is in the window above some words in Tamil script.

Wembley Central Mosque

Wembley Central Mosque

The Wembley Central Mosque complex on Ealing Road is housed in buildings that have features typical of the Arts and Crafts style popular at the beginning of the 20th century. The building with the clock-tower, now the mosque, was built in 1904, designed by Thomas Collcutt (1840-1924) and his apprentice Stanley Hamp (1877-1968). It was originally St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (see: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1335084). In 1993, the local Muslim congregation acquired into this church, which had stood empty for almost fifteen years. They moved here from an earlier mosque that they had built in 1985 in a semi-detached house on Harrowdene Road. The current mosque and its annexe can accommodate 1250 worshipers (see: http://www.wembleycentralmasjid.co.uk/about-us/).

Ealing Road ICICI Bank

Ealing Road ICICI Bank

Ealing Road Methodist Church

Ealing Road Methodist Church

Yet another manifestation of Ealing Road’s ties to the Indian Subcontinent is a branch of the Indian ICICI Bank, which is housed in a semi-detached Victorian house at number 49. The other half of this building is currently occupied by JM Amin, a firm of solicitors. Further along, stands Ealing Road Methodist Church, a brick neo-gothic building with a polygonal tower topped with a tiled steeple.

Clothing and jewellery in Ealing Road

Clothing and jewellery in Ealing Road

South of the Methodist Church, Ealing Road becomes a busy shopping centre. There are large shops selling clothes made in the Indian styles: kurtas, saris, salwar kameez, bridal wear, lenghas, chania choli, and traditional Indian sub-continental menswear. There is no need to fly to India or Pakistan to be properly kitted out. You need go no further than Ealing Road!

Ealing Road: Asia in suburbia

Ealing Road: Asia in suburbia

Fruit and veg Ealing Road

Fruit and veg Ealing Road

Ealing Road: decorative and devotional objects stall

Ealing Road: decorative and devotional objects stall

There is no shortage of jewellery shops supplying high carat gold jewellery in traditional Indian designs. At the other end of the price scale, there are vast fruit and vegetable stores, well-supplied to satisfy even the most demanding of vegetarians. And, there are many vegetarians living in this area, many of them of Gujarati heritage.

Sakonis Ealing Road

Sakonis Ealing Road

If you are keen on South Indian vegetarian food, there are several eateries, where you can have your fill. One of these, which I have visited frequently, is a large local branch of Sakonis. Before my first visit to India in 1994, my then future wife used to dine with me at Sakonis to help me become acquainted with South Indian food, such as I was going to encounter when I accompanied her to Bangalore, where we got married. It was at Sakonis that I ate my first ever dosa (a crepe-like pancake made with rice-flour) and delicious ‘mogo chips’, which are deep-fried strips of cassava. The inclusion of the latter on the menus of Sakonis and other vegetarian restaurants in the area reflects the fact that many of the Indians in Wembley have come to the UK from Uganda (expelled by Idi Amin in the 1960s), Kenya, and other regions of East Africa.

Popat Stores Ealing Rd

Popat Stores Ealing Rd

If you wish to cook your own food, then everything you need in an Asian kitchen is available at Popat Stores, which has been purveying kitchenware since 1972. ‘Popat’ is the Hindi word for ‘parrot’, but it can also mean to ‘goof-up’ (see: http://www.samosapedia.com/e/popat). Nearby, there are many shops with display stalls out on the pavement in front of them. They sell everything from shoes to devotional objects, but not books.

Wembley Gospel Hall Ealing Rd

Wembley Gospel Hall Ealing Rd

Wembley Gospel Hall Ealing Rd

Wembley Gospel Hall Ealing Rd

Amidst the food shops, jewellers, clothing stores, sweet shops, paan shops, bangle shops, and so on, stands the small Wembley Gospel Hall, which was opened in 1924. The congregation moved there from an older hall close to Alperton Station, which they had used since the 1890s. Notices on the building include texts in Gujarati script, reflecting the fact that there are speakers of this language amongst the Hall’s congregation. Within the Hall’s fence, there is a bilingual sign (English and Guajarati) exhorting people neither to drop litter nor to spit.

Gujarati and English in Ealing Road next to VB and Sons

Gujarati and English in Ealing Road next to VB and Sons

Next door to the Hall, there is a branch of the VB & Sons chain of supermarkets, which have been in existence for more than 20 years. VB’s stores, which are especially well patronised by the Gujarati community, offer a wide range of foodstuffs - from rices to spices - required for both Gujarati and South Indian cuisines. These stores can supply ingredients in anything from small family amounts to huge industrial catering sizes. This is the place to go if you need several gallons of pickle or huge sacks of lentils or other pulses.

Alperton Baptist Church

Alperton Baptist Church

Just south of the shopping arcade, but north of Alperton Station, stands the Alperton Baptist Church. This simple brick building with five windows just beneath its roof was built before 1932. It is adorned with the Union Jack and flags from seven different countries including India and Pakistan. It is a dramatic contrast to the Hindu temple that it faces across Ealing Road.

Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir - Ealing Road

Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir - Ealing Road

Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir - Ealing Road

Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir - Ealing Road

Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir - Ealing Road

Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir - Ealing Road

The Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir (‘Mandir’) is a decorative oasis in the desert of dull suburbia surrounding it. Located on land where a school once stood, this Mandir is an exciting riot of fine ornamentation. It is built using ochre-coloured stone from Jaisalmer (in Rajasthan, India), as well as various types of marble. Like much older Hindu temples in India, the surface of the building is rich in intricately executed religious carvings as well as scenes from Hindu legends such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and others. The Mandir was opened in May 2010 with a special ceremony. This eye-catching, attractive building’s appearance easily rivals that of the much-visited (by Hindus and non-Hindus alike) marble Neasden Temple, which is not far away.

Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir - Ealing Road

Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir - Ealing Road

So many of the residential houses were built around Wembley during the 1920s and’30s, the period when ‘art-deco’ flourished. Yet these homes, which were built at the same time as the Chrysler Building in New York, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, and many superb cinemas in London, are, to put it politely, unimaginative and dull to look at.

Alperton Station

Alperton Station

Alperton Station

Alperton Station

However, London Transport built many of the stations that serve the Piccadilly Line in this style. Alperton Station is no exception. The original station was opened in 1910, and then demolished by 1931. It was replaced by the present, elegant art-deco station designed by Charles Holden (1875-1960), who designed many other stations for the Underground as well as buildings such as the Senate House (built 1937) of the University of London and Zimbabwe House (built in 1907-8, originally for the British Medical Association its façade includes sculptures by Jacob Epstein) on the Strand.

Alperton bus garage

Alperton bus garage

Grand Union at Alperton looking east

Grand Union at Alperton looking east

Alperton Station is next to Alperton Garage, a depot for buses. Soon after this, Ealing Road makes a right angle turn and then continues south-eastwards instead of south-westwards, as had been from its start at Wembley High Road. Immediately, after turning the corner, the road crosses the Grand Union Canal - Paddington Branch (aka ‘Arm’), which flows for about 13 miles between Paddington Basin to Bull’s Bridge (on the main Grand Union Canal network) near Hayes Road in Hounslow. Near Paddington, the Arm joins with the Regent’s Canal to its east. The latter continues eastwards to Limehouse, where it connects with the Thames. The Paddington Arm was opened in 1801.

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

As it was a pleasant sunny afternoon, I decided to walk east along its well-maintained towpath. The towpath is lined with vegetation along its length between Ealing Road and Acton Lane. Along this stretch, the canal, which is close to a number of industrial units, passes through residential suburbia, but one is hardly aware of this. Linking parts of west London with central London, the towpath is used by many commuters on bicycles. Despite numerous signs exhorting them to give way to pedestrians on the path, most of the cyclists travel at high speed, as if they are training for the Tour de France. In addition to these thoughtless cyclists, there are many pedestrians, many of them with non-European features.

Cyclist and swans and Grand Union Canal

Cyclist and swans and Grand Union Canal

Two Moorhens on the Grand Union

Two Moorhens on the Grand Union

The canal, which was originally designed to transport goods, is not empty. I saw a steady stream of long canal boats (‘narrowboats’) travelling in both directions. Many of the helmsmen ‘steering’ these often colourfully decorated craft were quenching their thirst with cans of beer. The water is filled with water-fowl: families of swans, ducks, and moorhens, some of which were sitting on their nests. They swim amongst the waterweed and discarded bottles and cans floating on the surface.

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

Abbey Road bridge NW10

Abbey Road bridge NW10

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

Grand Union between Alperton and Park Royal

At one point, the canal crosses high above the River Brent, which seemed to be lost in the dense vegetation growing on its banks.

River Brent beneath Grand Union Canal

River Brent beneath Grand Union Canal

Immediately east of this point, the canal is divided into two lanes by an island, which has two identical concrete-topped brick cubes, each bearing the coat-of-arms of the County of Middlesex. This island spans the length of a bridge (an aqueduct) that carries the canal high over the busy North Circular Road. The original aqueduct was built at the same time as the North Circular in the early 1930s. It was strong enough to repel bombs placed at either end of it by the Irish Republican Army in 1939 (see: https://www.alpertonhistory.info/the-canal-aqueduct/). In the early 1990s, when the North Circular was widened, the original aqueduct was replaced with the present longer one.

Cyclists and canal crossing North Circular Rd

Cyclists and canal crossing North Circular Rd

North Circular Rd from the Grand Union Canal bridge

North Circular Rd from the Grand Union Canal bridge

Canal bridge over North Circular Rd

Canal bridge over North Circular Rd

East of the aqueduct, there is more industrial land usage than west of it, where there is more ‘Metro-land’ type of residential estates than industrial occupation. The Grand Junction Arms is a pub next to the Acton Lane bridge over the canal. With canal-side outdoor seating, this makes a pleasant refreshment stop. The pub was first opened as a ‘beer house’ in 1816. From 1861, it was known as the ‘Grand Junction and Railway Inn’. In the 15th century, Sir John Elrington (died 1483), the Lord of Twyford and sometime Member of Parliament, had his manor house near where the bridge is today. The parish of Twyford, whose name derives from ‘Tueverde’ meaning ‘two fords’, covers about 280 acres of the southwest of modern Willesden.

Grand Junction Arms Acton Lane bridge

Grand Junction Arms Acton Lane bridge

Across the canal, facing the pub, there is a modern café, with an open-air terrace overlooking the water. Many of the outdoor tables were occupied by women wearing bourkas. For, they were about to enjoy Lebanese food in this establishment named ‘Beit el Zaytoun’ (meaning ‘House of Olives’), which appears to attract reviews varying much from ‘great’ to ‘awful’. Unlike the pub across the waters, this place does not serve alcohol.

WEMB 6h Beit el Zaytoun at Acton Road bridge

WEMB 6h Beit el Zaytoun at Acton Road bridge

This ramble has taken us through areas of London rarely visited by tourists (except soccer aficionados), and, probably, with good reason. Viewed from a bus, car, or train, there is little to tempt the passer-by to stop in Wembley and its environs. I hope that what I have written in this chapter demonstrates that what, at first sight, looks dull, really deserves closer examination

Two swans on the Grand Union

Two swans on the Grand Union

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 01:53 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged football london india soccer canal pakistan sri_lanka wembley dosa suburbia gujarati river_brent metro-land grand_union_canal Comments (0)

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