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Entries about river brent

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)

A RIVER IN LONDON: FROM TRICKLE TO TORRENT

An exploration of parts of a large, and once important, tributary of London's River Thames.

When I was a child living in the Hampstead Garden Suburb, my friends and I used to play beside a rather odd-smelling little stream that flowed near to the Market Place on Falloden Way. In those days, I had no idea that the water in this rivulet, Mutton Brook, eventually flowed into the Thames. This essay describes two parts of one of London’s longer tributaries of the River Thames, the River Brent. The first part deals with Mutton Brook, one of the sources of the Brent. The second explores Brentford, where the River Brent merges with the Thames. I wrote this following a recent visit to Brentford, where my wife was representing clients at the local County Court. While she was in front of the judge, I explored the estuary of the River Brent and its historic surroundings. The following day, I revisited Mutton Brook.

A heron on the Decoy Pond

A heron on the Decoy Pond

The River Brent begins where the waters of Dollis Brook and Mutton Brook merge near Golders Green. Dollis Brook has its sources near Arkley and Mill Hill in the London Borough of Barnet (see: https://www.ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=Dollis+Valley+Greenwalk), about nine miles before it converges with Mutton Brook (the name being associated with sheep washing in the past).

Sketch map of the River Brent

Sketch map of the River Brent

Mutton Brook

Mutton Brook

The Brook rises from Cherry Tree Wood (formerly ‘Dirthouse Wood’, a remnant of the historic mediaeval ‘Finchley wood’ that was once well-known for its highwaymen). It is not far from East Finchley Station, which is where my ‘exploration’ begins.

East Finchley Station

East Finchley Station

East Finchley Underground station is above ground. Art-deco in design (architects: Charles Holden and LH Bucknell), this was built in the latter half of the 1930s. A ten-foot-tall sculpture of a kneeling archer, sculpted by Eric Aumonier (1899–1974) overlooks both the platforms and the station’s forecourt. It recalls that East Finchley used to be at the edge of the ancient Royal Forest of Enfield where both royalty and commoners once hunted.

Old White Lion at  East Finchley

Old White Lion at East Finchley

The Old White Lion pub on The Great North Road (A1000) next to the station has some interesting eye-shaped features in its roof tiling. These resemble the similarly shaped slits that appear in roofs of old buildings all over central Europe. This pub (in an earlier building) was in existence at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when it was known as the ‘White Lion’. Until 1900, there was a toll-gate on the Great North Road next to the pub.

Belvedere Court

Belvedere Court

The western part of Bishops Avenue, home to many wealthy people, leads to the A1 where it is called ‘Aylmer Road’. Belvedere Court on Aylmer Road is an unmissable brick and stone building with an un-British appearance. This block of flats, built 1937-38, was designed by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s youngest son, the architect Ernst Ludwig Freud (1892-1970). Trained by the architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933), a pioneer of modern architecture, Ernst came to the UK with his father in 1934. At first, the flats in this building were rented mainly to Jewish immigrants fleeing from Nazi-occupied Europe. During his childhood, the TV personality Jerry Springer lived in Belvedere Court.

Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in Norrice Lea

Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in Norrice Lea

Norrice Lea leads south from Aylmer Road, and is home to the Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, which has an Orthodox Jewish congregation. The synagogue was designed by Maurice de Metz and completed in 1935 (see: http://www.hgstrust.org/documents/area-13-holne-chase-norrice-lea.pdf). With its elegant main portico, it was consecrated in 1934, and then enlarged far less elegantly in the 1960s (see: http://www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/London/hampsteadgs/index.htm).

View of Hampstead Garden Suburb from playing fields near Norrice Lea

View of Hampstead Garden Suburb from playing fields near Norrice Lea

A narrow pathway leads from Norrice Lea between private gardens into Lyttelton Playing Fields. There is an excellent view across this grassy expanse of the upper parts of Hampstead Garden Suburb with its churches designed by the architect of government buildings in New Delhi, Edwin Lutyens (St Judes with its spire and The Free Church with its dome).

Bridge over Mutton Brook at Lytttelton Playing Fields

Bridge over Mutton Brook at Lytttelton Playing Fields

Mutton Brook at Lytttelton Playing Fields

Mutton Brook at Lytttelton Playing Fields

Next to a small café, which forms part of a Jewish kindergarten, a short path leads a few feet northwards to a small bridge. It is from this brick-walled bridge that we first catch sight of Mutton Brook. Confined between banks maintained with wooden planking and lined with bushes on both banks, it is no more than about two feet wide at this point.

Houses at Kingsley Way

Houses at Kingsley Way

Bridge at Kingsley Way

Bridge at Kingsley Way

By the time that the Brook reaches the brick and stone bridge which carries Kingsley Way over it, its width has almost doubled. A gauge next to the bridge projects vertically from the water. Its presence is suggestive of the possibility of the brook becoming much deeper during times of heavy rainfall. Near the bridge, there are a few houses with art-deco features, notably their upper storey windows. The water flows under the bridge after passing over a small waterfall (the first of many), and then leaves the bridge via two more step-like waterfalls.

View upstream from  bridge at Kingsley Way

View upstream from bridge at Kingsley Way

'Rapids' at Kingsley Way

'Rapids' at Kingsley Way

The Brook flows towards Northway in a stone-lined channel that curves gently through a strip of cultivated parkland. When I was a child, there was a small putting-green in this park, but that has gone. The single-arched bridge carrying Northway over the stream has iron railings.

Between Kingsley Way and Northway

Between Kingsley Way and Northway

Northway Bridge

Northway Bridge

The water flows next through Northway Gardens between almost vertical banks like a groove cut into the lawns. It passes some tennis courts on its left bank, and flows over another low waterfall. The Gardens, which vary in width, are flanked to the north by the back gardens of houses on Falloden Way, the westerly continuation of Aylmer Road. To the south, they are flanked by the gardens of the houses on Oakwood Road.

Falloden Way   bridge

Falloden Way bridge

Emerging from the Falloden Way Bridge

Emerging from the Falloden Way Bridge

Mutton Brook curves northwards and then disappears under Falloden Way beneath a bridge with brick walls topped with white stone slabs. It emerges from under the main road in two channels that merge into one. Brooklands Drive crosses the Brook over a bridge made from wood and bricks.

Brooklands Rise bridge

Brooklands Rise bridge

The part of Hampstead Garden Suburb north of Falloden Way, which includes Brooklands Drive, is sometimes called ‘Across the Jordan’ because of its large Jewish population. The stream then flows over another waterfall before before entering a concrete-lined conduit that carries it back under Falloden Way.

Conduit under Falloden Way west

Conduit under Falloden Way west

Between its emergence from under Falloden Way to where Finchley Road crosses it, Mutton Brook winds its way between steeply sloping meadows on its right bank and wooded land on its left bank. Walking beside it, one could imagine that one is in the middle of the countryside if it were not for the sight and muted sounds of traffic flowing along the Falloden Way.

The Brook just after it re crosses the Falloden Way

The Brook just after it re crosses the Falloden Way

Brook near east side of Finchley Road

Brook near east side of Finchley Road

Mutton Brook disappearing under east side of Finchley Road

Mutton Brook disappearing under east side of Finchley Road

At Finchley Road, the Brook flows unceremoniously beneath the roadway near to what used to be known in my childhood as ‘Henlys Corner’. This important junction of Finchley Road and the North Circular Road was so named because between 1935 and 1989 there used to be a branch of the Henlys Motors group of garages on its south-western corner. This has been demolished, and where it stood there is a widened roadway and grass. The junction is sandwiched between the merging of Falloden Way with the North Circular on its eastern side, and between the latter and the Great North Way (A1) on its western side.

La Delivrance

La Delivrance

La Delivrance

La Delivrance

Finchley Road continues across the North Circular Road and becomes ‘Regents Park Road’. A spectacular sculpture depicting a naked lady holding a sword aloft stands on a traffic island immediately north of the Henlys Corner junction. This is the ‘La Délivrance’ statue (aka ‘The Naked Lady’), sculpted by the French artist Emile Guillaume (1867-1942), a pacifist. It is a cast made from the original that was exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1920, where it was seen by the proprietor of the Daily Mail newspaper (and an advocate of appeasement with the Nazis) Viscount Rothermere (1868-1940). Rothermere commissioned the lady who stands looking north with her backside facing the North Circular Road. The statue was unveiled in 1927 by a former prime minister, David Lloyd-George (1863-1945).

Kinloss Schul

Kinloss Schul

Henleys Corner

Henleys Corner

Close to the Naked Lady stands the ‘Kinloss Schul’ also known as ‘Finchley United Synagogue’. It is a striking building with its multiple external vertical reinforced concrete elements. Home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish congregations, capable of accommodating two thousand people, this edifice was completed in 1967 by the architects Dowton and Hurst.

Between Finchley Road and North Circular

Between Finchley Road and North Circular

Mutton Brook continues west of Finchley Road almost parallel to the North Circular Road. It flows through pleasantly rustic parkland, lawns and woods, until it reaches a point where the North Circular Road has begun curving in a south-westerly direction.

Between Finchley Road and North Circular

Between Finchley Road and North Circular

Under the North Circular

Under the North Circular

After passing a fading sign that declares “Polluted Water Keep Out”, both the footpath and the brook pass under the main road in a large diameter concrete-lined tunnel, circular in cross-section. This is surveyed by a cobwebbed CCTV camera. The footpath follows the Brook for about one third of a mile from the tunnel before reaching the last bridge that crosses Mutton Brook. This footbridge with wrought-iron railings crosses the stream a few feet from the point where it joins Dollis Brook at right angles.

Lowest Bridge over Mutton Brook

Lowest Bridge over Mutton Brook

Where Mutton Brook flows into Dollis Brook to form The Brent

Where Mutton Brook flows into Dollis Brook to form The Brent

This almost insignificant meeting of two streams is where the River Brent is deemed officially to begin its passage towards the Thames at Brentford.

Bridge Lane bridge

Bridge Lane bridge

Bridge Lane Bridge

Bridge Lane Bridge

The Brent at Bridge Lane

The Brent at Bridge Lane

A few yards away from its commencement, the River Brent flows under a road bridge with white stone balustrades. This bridge marks the southern end of Bridge Lane, which begins in Temple Fortune, and Bell Lane, which leads towards central Hendon. At this point, the River Brent is many times wider than Mutton Brook was at Lyttelton Playing Fields several miles upstream. After crossing Bridge Lane, another footpath enters Brent Park, which is, like all the green areas that have been described already, maintained by the London Borough of Barnet. The River Brent flows along the northern edge of this strip of parkland, which runs parallel to the North Circular Road until it meets the A40. A more picturesque name for this busy road might be ‘The Brent Valley Highway’.

Brent Park Decoy pond looking east

Brent Park Decoy pond looking east

Brent Park bench with Barnet crest

Brent Park bench with Barnet crest

Brent Park, which was opened to the public in 1934, contains a piece of water of historic interest, the Decoy Pond. Decoy ponds were used to capture waterfowl for food. When the birds entered such a pond, the hunters lured them with food to narrow inlets where they were easily trapped in tapering nets. The age of the pond is uncertain, but by 1754 there was a house ‘Decoy House’, named after the pond, in existence (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp5-11). The pond is now a good place to spot a variety of waterfowl including ducks, moorhens and herons. It is surrounded by decorative iron benches in various states of disrepair. Each of them bears the coat of arms of the Borough of Barnet. While the waters of the pond are placid, and covered in many places with a good growth of green weeds, the Brent that flow past its northern edge is quite a torrent in comparison.

The BRENT in Brent Park

The BRENT in Brent Park

At one point, the river drops about five feet over a spectacular waterfall. Meanwhile, on the south side of the pond, but high above it, traffic rushes along the North Circular. Oddly, this hardly disturbs the peace of the lovely park.

Brent Street Bridge

Brent Street Bridge

Brent Street crosses the Brent over a brick bridge with wrought-iron railings. Beyond this, the river flows south-westwards between the back gardens of buildings on both sides of it, and there is no footpath to follow.

Weir at former Brent Bridge House

Weir at former Brent Bridge House

Garden structure by the weir at former Brent Bridge House

Garden structure by the weir at former Brent Bridge House

On the eastern side of the bridge, and only just visible through the dense vegetation, it may be seen that the river flows through a narrow artificial weir built between two ruined circular towers covered with graffiti. Each of these has a conical roof with several tiles missing. They appear to have been designed as viewing points or gazebos. These stand in what used to be the grounds of Brent Bridge House, which was an 18th century stuccoed building, once the seat of the Whishaws (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp5-11). Charles Whishaw had converted it from a farm house into a ‘gentleman’s residence’ by 1828. A John Wishaw, who was a son of the lawyer Richard Wishaw (1707-1787) also lived there (see: http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_whishaw.html#pope). Later, parts of this building were incorporated into the now long-since demolished Brent Bridge Hotel (opened just before 1914). In 1963, eleven years before it was demolished, my parents spent a few nights in the hotel whilst our damp house in Hampstead Garden Suburb was being dried out. It had been left unheated during the three winter months that we had spent in the USA.

The Brent   east of Brent Street

The Brent east of Brent Street

Having explored something of the source of the Brent, we now shift several miles downstream, south-westwards to its ‘estuary’, where it flows into the River Thames at Brentford. The name ‘Brentford’, which appears in an early 8th century (AD) record, might either refer to a ford over the River Brent or the River Thames, which was in earlier times quite shallow where the Brent enters it. In any case, during the 1st century, there was a settlement there on a Roman Road from London to the west country. Archaeological evidence has been discovered (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol7/pp113-120), which suggests that there was a Neolithic settlement in what is now Brentford.

Brentford County Court

Brentford County Court

I began my exploration of Brentford outside its simple but elegant County Court, which was designed by CG Pinfold, and opened in 1963. Despite its age, it looks almost contemporary.

Alexandra House

Alexandra House

Next door to it, is Alexandra House, an asymmetric brick building with some circular windows and flat roofs at different levels. It was built as a health centre in 1938. It was designed by LA Cooper and KP Goble (see: http://www.brentfordhistory.com/category/places/page/11/) in a ‘cubist’ design that looks bit like a three-dimensional version of a Piet Mondrian painting.

Old Fire Station Brentford

Old Fire Station Brentford

Both of these buildings are on the High Street, as is the Old Fire Station, which is east of them. The gables of this lovely red brick building are decorated with terracotta tiles bearing floral designs. Designed by Nowell Parr (1864-1933), it was opened in 1898. The fire station was closed in 1965, and then used as an ambulance station until 1980 (see: http://laytoncollection.org/index.php/thomas-layton-brentford/the-layton-trail/). Since 1990, it has been used to house a restaurant.

Ferry Lane leads from the High Street to Soaphouse Lane, passing the Watermans Arms pub, which was first established in 1770, but the present establishment occupies a much more recent building.

Watermans Arms Ferry Lane Brentford

Watermans Arms Ferry Lane Brentford

Facing a small dock at the end of the eastern ‘arm’ of Ferry Lane, where canal longboats serving as houseboats are moored, stands the 18th century Peerless Pump Building. This was built in about 1720 (although it bears a sign with the date ‘1704’). It was home to the Rowe family, who were proprietors of the former ‘Thames Soap Works’, which flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries. By the end of the 19th century, the soap works occupied almost all the area between the High Street and the two branches of Ferry Lane. The small dock, an inlet from the Thames near the mouth of the Brent used to be called ‘Soaphouse Creek’ (see: http://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/local-history/industries-and-crafts/the-thames-soap-works-messrs-t-b-rowe-of-ferry-lane-brentford/).

Thames Soapworks creek

Thames Soapworks creek

Peerless Pump Building 1704 Brentford

Peerless Pump Building 1704 Brentford

The company prospered until the early 20th century, when it began to go into decline. Between 1916 and 1933, Lever Brothers tried to keep it going, but eventually closed it down. In 1952, some of the premises were used by Varley Pumps, and then later by Peerless Pumps (until 1989). In the 1990s, Rowe’s 18th century house was restored to its former glory, and retains the name ‘Peerless Pump Building’.

Travelling Crane rails

Travelling Crane rails

Lock Gates at Thames Soapworks creek

Lock Gates at Thames Soapworks creek

A cobbled lane with inset steel rails, along which a travelling crane once used to move, runs along the eastern edge of Soaphouse Creek towards the Thames. At the end of the tracks, there stands a large beautiful curved, curtain-like, steel sculpture, whose silvery surface is covered with delicate patterns. This is called ‘Liquidity’, and was created by Simon Packard in 2002.

Liquidity

Liquidity

Liquidity  detail

Liquidity detail

After it was completed, some locals objected to it, and wanted it pulled down (see: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/dec/01/arts.artsnews), but it has survived … so far. It stands close to where for many centuries a ferry used to cross the Thames to Kew. This ferry was free to locals until 1536, when John Halle was appointed its keeper and charged one quarter of a penny to pedestrians and twice that to horsemen. The ferry continued to operate from this spot close to the former soap works until 1939.

Mouth of the River Brent at Brentford

Mouth of the River Brent at Brentford

From the sculpture, it is easy to view the mouth of the River Brent. The wedge of land formed between the two rivers is now covered with housing that surrounds Brentford Marina. This piece of land, reached by driving along Dock Road, was formerly dockland: ‘Brentford Docks’. In addition to the docks, there was a vast, now demolished, railway marshalling yard reached by a side-line that branched off the main Great Western Railway (‘GWR’) at Southall. Opened by the GWR in 1859, it continued working until 1964. A few years later the former dockland was re-developed for other purposes.

Between Brentford and southern Hanwell, the River Brent shares its waters with a branch of the Grand Union Canal. Until 1794, when the lower stretch of the Brent was engineered to become part of the canal system, the river could only be navigated by small craft (see: http://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/publications/the-journal/journal-6-1997/the-history-of-brentford-bridge/).

Thames Lock on River Brent

Thames Lock on River Brent

Thames Lock looking towards the Thames from River Brent

Thames Lock looking towards the Thames from River Brent

A few yards from the Brent’s estuary, there is the ‘Thames Lock’, which is overlooked by the bridge carrying Dock Road. This lock was built to bypass the last waterfall over which the Brent flows before entering the Thames. At the lock, the river bifurcates, some water going via the lock, and the rest via the falls. A small island covered with boat-repair yards exists between this fork in the river and where the two branches re-join downstream.

Boat repair yards near Thames Lock

Boat repair yards near Thames Lock

Routemasters for hire on Dock Road Bentford

Routemasters for hire on Dock Road Bentford

Boat repair yards near Thames Lock

Boat repair yards near Thames Lock

Lowest waterfall on the River Brent view under Dock Road Bridge Brentford

Lowest waterfall on the River Brent view under Dock Road Bridge Brentford

The small Johnsons Island is immediately upstream from the lock and the waterfall. It was named after Dr Wallace Johnson (1730-1813), who lived in The Butts (see below). A map dated 1900 marks it as the home of ‘Staffordshire Wharf’.

Johnsons Island Brentford

Johnsons Island Brentford

Entry to creek surrounding Johnsons Island Brentford

Entry to creek surrounding Johnsons Island Brentford

Since the 1990s, the island has been used as an artists’ colony (see: http://www.johnsonsislandartists.com/). Further upstream, Augustus Close crosses the Brent obliquely over a bridge, which is in the same spot as that which used to carry the railway to Brentford Docks. This bridge incorporates parts of the original rail bridge built as part of Isambard Brunel’s (1806-1859) last great engineering project.

Augustus Close bridge, formerly railway bridge to Brentford Dock

Augustus Close bridge, formerly railway bridge to Brentford Dock

Brentford Bridge

Brentford Bridge

The Brent curves northwards and passes under Brentford High Street which is carried across Brentford Bridge. This stone bridge, which is largely hidden by ugly metal cladding and parapets, was built in 1818. It is the latest ‘reincarnation’ of the first bridge, which was built in 1284.

The Six Bells near Brentford Bridge

The Six Bells near Brentford Bridge

The Six Bells pub is close to the bridge. Already licensed by 1722, the present building has existed from 1904. The ‘six bells’ refer to six bells that used to be rung in the nearby St Lawrence Church on special occasions.

A short distance upstream from the bridge, the Brent widens where the Brentford Gauging Lock with its two lock basins stands. This was once one of the busiest places on the Grand Union Canal. Its name refers to the fact that it was there that the toll-keeper assessed how much cargo was being carried by each barge (see: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/places-to-visit-pdf/Brentford_Gauging_Lock.pdf).

Brentford Gauging Lock

Brentford Gauging Lock

Toll house Brentford Gauging Lock

Toll house Brentford Gauging Lock

Milestone at Brentford Gauging Lock

Milestone at Brentford Gauging Lock

The present toll-keeper’s office was built in 1911. It contains a small exhibition. A mile-post next to the western lock basin informs that the lock is 93 miles from Braunston (in Northamptonshire), a central location on the canal system of the Midlands.

Weir just upstream from Brentford Gauging Lock

Weir just upstream from Brentford Gauging Lock

View up River Brent to Great West Road

View up River Brent to Great West Road

The Brent divides above the lock. One branch serves as the canal, and the other, which curves around an island covered with new housing blocks, falls picturesquely over a waterfall. The Brent then continues towards the A4 road, and the view along it is dominated by the recently built GlaxoSmithCline skyscraper. After viewing the lock, I left the Brent and entered the town of Brentford.

The Weir, formerly The White Horse

The Weir, formerly The White Horse

Turner lived here at The Weir

Turner lived here at The Weir

The Weir Bar, clad with green tiling around its ground floor, is a short distance from the waterfall mentioned above. Before 2004, it was called ‘The White Horse’. The pub has been in existence since the beginning of the 17th century, or earlier. The building that now houses it once belonged to the butcher William Marshal. His nephew, the greatest (in my opinion) British painter William Turner (1775-1851), lived here with his uncle between 1785 and 1787. It is said that Turner painted some of his first watercolours while living in this building.

The Butts

The Butts

The Butts

The Butts

Beaufort House, The Butts

Beaufort House, The Butts

Corner of The Butts and Upper Butts

Corner of The Butts and Upper Butts

A small road next to The Weir leads into The Butts, so-named from 1596. A ‘butt’ is an archery or shooting target or range (and, also, it can be a piece of raised ground, a word derived from the French ‘butte’). Whatever its meaning, the Butts is an open space surrounded by beautiful houses built mainly in the 18th century. Some of them are even older, dating from the late 17th century. Being so close to what is quite a mundane High Street, this historical ensemble comes as a delightful surprise, and it alone makes a visit to Brentford worthwhile. With their lovely architecture, well-tended gardens, attractive doorways, these buildings are worthy of close examination.

Boatmens Institute on The Butts Brentford

Boatmens Institute on The Butts Brentford

One building on the Butts is newer. Bearing the date 1904, this is the Boatmens Institute. Designed in the Arts and Crafts style by Noel Parr (1864-1933), who built many pubs for the west London Fullers Brewery, this was built on the site of an old mill (close to the waterfall mentioned above) for the London City Mission. Its original purpose was to educate the children of boatmen and to provide medical assistance for the boatmen’s wives (see: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1380286 & http://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/publications/the-journal/journal-13-2004/the-brentford-boatmens-institute/). The ‘boatpeople’, who, like the Roma and Travellers, lived a life in constant motion, lived apart from the rest of the population, and were barely catered for. Therefore, the Institute, which cared for them, was much appreciated by them. It is one of only five or six examples of such an establishment to have ever been set-up in the UK.

St Marys Convent Brentford

St Marys Convent Brentford

St Marys Convent Brentford

St Marys Convent Brentford

Near to the Butts, there is another charitable institution, the St Mary’s Convent, also known as ‘St Raphael’s Convent’. The oldest part of the convent, which is almost opposite Beaufort House, was built in about 1792, and was originally the home of a Dr Cooper. It was bought in 1880 by Mother Mary Magdalen, a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism who had nursed in the Crimean War in the 1850s. The convent was gradually enlarged (with an unattractive brick building) in the early twentieth century. It houses, and caters for, women with learning difficulties and other problems.

Brentford's former court house

Brentford's former court house

The Butts was an extension of the Market Place. Its most interesting structure is now occupied by The Verdict, a beautiful café housed in the ground floor of what was once the Court House. This stands on the site of a market building for almost 300 years until it was demolished in about 1850. The present building, built as a town hall in 1852, was never used as a town hall. Instead, it became used as a courthouse. In 2012, the court was closed, and the building converted into flats above, and the restaurant below (see: http://www.brentfordhistory.com/2013/11/11/magistrates-court-2/#more-1243).

Returning along the High Street towards the present County Court, we reach the Brentford Monument. When I visited it recently, it was enclosed in a wooden casing as it is about to be restored. However, I have seen this tall cylindrical stone monument on a previous visit. Originally, this granite pillar stood at one end of Brentford Bridge (see above). According to a historian of Middlesex Sir Montagu Sharpe (1857-1942), it was at Brentford that Julius Caesar crossed the Thames in 54 BC during his exploration of Britain (see: http://www.brentfordtw8.com/default.asp?section=info&page=localhistory042.htm). The monument records that a confederation of British tribes led by Cassivellaunus “bravely opposed” Caesar’s advance towards Verulamium (near the modern St Albans). The monument also commemorated both Edmund Ironside defeating the Danes (led by King Canute) in 1016, and the Civil War Battle of Brentford (1642), a Royalist victory over the Parliamentarians.

Former court house,  now cafe

Former court house, now cafe

This concludes my exploration of a source and the mouth of the River Brent, a once important tributary of the River Thames because of its inclusion in the Grand Union Canal network. At Brentford, we encounter sites that figure early in the history of London, and at Mutton Brook we travel through a part of London that was open countryside until the beginning of the twentieth century. In the future, I hope to explore the rest of the Brent, much of which flows, like Mutton Brook, through park land.

Footbridge over Brent at Brentford

Footbridge over Brent at Brentford

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 06:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london river thames brent romans river_thames river_brent mutton_brook barnet brentford Comments (4)

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