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My Hometown - Hounslow, Nowhere Near Krakatoa
London in General
Member Name: Nibelung
London in General
Date: 06/11/04, updated on 22/11/04 (2739 review reads)
Advantages: Good access to central London..., ....and for getting out of the country, Many good places to eat within easy reach
Disadvantages: Traffic-ridden, Noisy, if you pick the wrong spot to live, Far too many good places to eat within easy reach
Having read MrChilliwillie’s excellent Home Town Challenge on Shrewsbury, I got to thinking about where I live, but couldn’t for the life of me identify my own hometown.
Lost, no sense of direction?
No, it’s just that I live in one of the outer London boroughs where you don’t actually feel that you can call ALL of London ‘home’, neither do I think of myself as a ‘Londoner’, yet my borough bears the name of ‘Hounslow’, which is somewhere ELSE that I don’t actually live either, although it’s only about two miles from my house.
The London Borough of Hounslow, to give the area its full name was formed in around 1967 as a result of the dissolution of the old County Of Middlesex, and the combining of the two erstwhile Middlesex boroughs of ‘Heston & Isleworth’ and ‘Brentford & Chiswick’, which in itself caused a deal of friction. To this day, just try telling someone who lives in ‘posh’ Chiswick ‘Oh, that’s in Hounslow isn’t it?’ and see how far you get with that as a chat-up line.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Yes, I’d like to move……..the borough, I mean.
Situated as it is, in a western slice of the circular ‘pie’ that is the GLC area, it not only has Europe’s busiest airport on its doorstep, but some of Europe’s busiest road traffic, not surprisingly taking people and freight to and from the airport! It therefore follows that it’s not the quietest place in the world, with aircraft landings commencing at around 4.30 a.m. (so much for the BAA’s definition of night flying restrictions). However, if you’re silly enough to buy a house under either of the two main flight-paths, then you ask for everything you get, although the more well-heeled people of Kew and Richmond arguably suffer more from plane noise. Away from these two noise footprints of Runways 28 Left and Right, it’s like any other outer urban borough, and at least you know that, this close to the runways, you won’t have stray aircraft flying over you, as they are lined up and regimented by air traffic control way back over Kensington!
It’s easy to forget with both the M4 motorway and A4 trunk route running through the borough like a pair of femoral arteries, that the town of Hounslow also has a history as a stage-coach stop.
The old London-Bath main road runs right through Brentford (where the Coach & Horses pub gets a mention by Dickens), through Isleworth and into Hounslow itself where it becomes the plain old High Street, and in former times would have been a first overnight stage coaching stop on the route west from London, at least in winter. To proceed any further would have meant crossing the formidable Hounslow Heath (of which some still remains) in the dark, at the mercy of the likes ne’er-do-wells like Dick Turpin on the days when he wasn't commuting to York to get his alibi in place! Even today, The High Street actually becomes Bath Road as it leaves the western end of the shops.
Incidentally, Heathrow originally was a ‘row’ of cottages on the ‘heath’ – strange times we live in, eh?
In summer, your stage coach could have made it to the somewhat more picturesque village of Colnbrook (now just the other side of the airport), which to this day has three or four identifiable coaching inns, two of which are still pubs, and one, The Ostrich (a corruption of Hostelry - nothing to do with flightless birds) lays claim to being one of Britain's oldest survining pubs.
HOUNSLOW AS A BEAUTY SPOT
An unlikely title I know, but there really is a lot to admire within the borough, even if that doesn’t include Hounslow’s own town centre, being the usual suburban concrete mess with a so-so sized version of all national shops (‘Littlewoolydebmarks’, ‘Argocurrixons etc!) and very little else that’s unique.
For one thing, we’re not exactly short of parks.
Osterley Park, former London seat of The Earl Of Jersey, is now an NT property, and has to be just about the closest to London that you’ll see cattle grazing. The original Tudor house was converted by Robert Adam in the 18th century although the stable block - now tea rooms and a NT shop is still decidedly 'red brick' Tudor.
See also http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/places/osterley/
This is a delightful area of landscaped garden and lakes combined with more agricultural land*, marred only by its relative proximity to the M4, which emits a background drone more than a lot of noise. Having lived here 49 years, I don’t notice it now! The house and gardens were the scene for the 60’s movie 'The Grass Is Greener' where they represented the ‘country pile’ of Cary Grant, I seem to recall.
*This is also the closest a combine-harvester gets to working near London, I’ll wager.
The wheat fields that form the western side of the park were once known as ‘Elizabeth’s Granary’ as they supplied Good Queen Bess’ official bakers. The estate my 1935 house is built on backs onto these fields, and the neighbouring more modern housing project is actually called Wheatlands, although the connection is no doubt lost on many of the home-owners there.
Whilst still on the subject of country piles, Syon Park, also in LB of Hounslow is the London seat of The Duke Of Northumberland. This is also an ornamental park, but you have to pay to go in. Free access is limited to the Garden Centre where you are free to part with your money in oh so many other ways. Here again, look out for the highland cattle grazing without batting an eyelid as a Seven-Forty-Seven does a ‘flaps-down, throttles up’ 3000 feet directly above his horns. Syon Park has a prime example of the boroughs ‘other beauty spot', i.e the north bank of the Thames, as it flows past Old Deer Park and Kew Gardens on the Richmond bank.
Gunnersbury Park, which is jointly administered by Hounslow and Ealing (the 'border' runs through it), was donated to London by the Rothschild family, and quite apart from a large area of footabll pitches, ornate gardens and a boating lake it also contains Gunnersbury House, their previous London residence. This has a magnificent Victorian kitchen which often serves as a huge educational resource and a large display of horse drawn carriages.
Old Isleworth, an area heavily 'remodelled' by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War (it actually had some sea-going docks worth bombing), and the river bank here is a lovely if small spot. The famous London Apprentice pub lies here with its terrace overlooking the nature conservation area of Isleworth Ait (or Eyot - that’s what islets get called around her). The local All Saints church, ironically badly burned by teenage arsonists during WW2, had been rebuilt in a ‘kind’ of marriage between old and new, but for one, I’m not sure it works. Anyway, out back, there’s a ‘plague pit’ mass grave – cheery thought that.
Strand-On-The-Green is the village bit of ‘posher end’ Chiswick. This pretty waterfront row of eclectic cottages and modern mews houses is interspersed with pubs all charging ‘waterside prices’! It also faces the Public Records Office at Kew on the ‘Surrey bank’. The Beatles got thrown out of The City Barge here during one of their films - Help! I think it might have been. The river all through, or rather past, LB of Hounslow is tidal, and I’ve spent many happy hours watching ‘hoorays’ launching their honking great cruisers down the Old Isleworth slipway, only to find that the jolly old Shogun is trapped by the tide on the way back up and needs a tow truck – oh the ignominy! Yet more evidence that Ken is right.
Always one of my favourites, when I feel like pretending I live in the country is to walk/cycle the Grand Union Canal towpath from Norwood Green (the posh end of Southall) to Brentford Dock, close to where the canal meets The Thames. The canal really is a haven of tranquillity, and I recently snapped a brilliant shot of a heron with a yard long eel in its beak. This 10-mile round trip can almost be done without walking/cycling on any roads, and is mainly downhill as you negotiate a staircase of locks to get to The Thames - I've introduced several people who THOUGHT they knew the area, and most have difficulty getting their bearings on account of the vastly different terrain.
Nearer central London, you have the neo-Palladian style of Chiswick House with lake and grounds and nearby ‘Hogarth’s House’ – I wonder what Hogarth would have made of all the humanity in Terminal One on a holiday Saturday!
Of course, for me, my own favourite beauty spot in the borough is the Fuller, Smith & Turner brewery – hic.
Having the Fullers brewery in the locale does at least mean that we have more than a sprinkling of their pubs within reach as well as those owned by Youngs of Wandsworth - two of my favourite brews, AND they're local, oh bliss. Whilst on a similar tack, The Red Lion, a suburban pub in an Isleworth sidestreet is a CAMRA favourite with locals and 'collectors' alike.
HOUNSLOW AS A MOVIE VENUE
Yet another unlikely title, you’d think, but Hounslow has featured, if only as an anonymous suburban location in many movies and TV sitcoms. The 60-70’s TV series, 'Beggar My Neighbour' (Reg Varney, Peter Jones, Pat Coombs, June Whitfield) was filmed in my mum’s road, Oaklands Avenue in Osterley, which is also where gritty actor Bernard Lee, (the ‘M’ to Sean Connery's Bond, and grandfather to Jonny Lee Miller of ‘Plunkett and Macleane’ fame) actually lived for many years.
My only claim to vicarious fame these days is that I attend LB Hounslow Adult-Ed Italian classes along with Sandra Dickinson of Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy fame.
A lot of the outdoor locations spring from the fact that during the heyday of sitcoms and even masterpieces like Monthy Python, the BBC ran its outside recordings section from nearby Ealing Studios, so, if the street lamps are painted two-tone brown it’s Ealing, if they’re pale blue, it’s Hounslow – easy when you know how.
More specifically, many outside shots in ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ were shot here deliberately, including the frontage to Hounslow Central underground station and many shots including the A4 and in particular the road signs pointing to my house, which is how I recognised them!
Even more recently, many of the street scenes in ‘Finding Neverland’, the J. M. Barrie story starring Johnny Depp were filmed in The Butts, Brentford - a Georgian area that wishes it was in Richmond – Anna Ford lives in The Butts. All the theatre shots were taken at nearby Richmond Theatre on The Green – see guys, I knew that Victorian makeover would come in handy sooner or later. The rather odd name 'Butts dates back to when the local 'nob's would exercise and drill their contribution to the army in this square, its four corners being marked by four large barrels, or butts.
PLACES OF INTEREST
There really is a wierd mix of museum-like attractions in the area. One is the Kew Steam Museum, actually in Brentford by dint of the fact that it’s north of the river. This is an old Thames Water steam-powered pumping station with just about the largest ‘Cornish Beam Engines’ I‘ve ever seen. It’s like a cathedral to engineering where followers of the true power come to worship. Quite apart from the fixed pumping engines, it has many other steam exhibits including ships engines, a French-built front-line field railway from the First World War and is also home to open days for seemingly anyone with an antique steam locomotive or traction engine. You can’t miss it; it’s the one with the magnificent brick tower (housing the stand-pipe that created the local water pressure) just before Kew Bridge.
The Brentford Piano Museum – this place is fascinating and has been expanded to include all kinds of keyboard instruments. When I went there last, they actually demonstrated a pianola roll that had been punched by Rachmaninov himself (or was it Liberace?). It was an eerie sight to see the keys moving in exactly the way that the player had pressed them all those years before – was this the original ‘digital recording’? This place is currently housed in an old church with dire maintenance problems and has been talking about moving to the Steam Museum for years – check before travelling.
An obelisk moved to outside the County Court house in Brentford High Street commemorates the approximate spot where Juilus Ceasar forded the Thames against stiff opposition from the local planning commitee as they didn't want any foreigners building villas without permission on their land - as it's also near the spot where Charles 1st amassed his troops before The Battle Of Turnham Green, it also commemorates that!
I’ll include Acton Works as a local place of interest even if it is some hundreds of yards inside Ealing being right opposite Acton Town (Picc line). This Underground depot has been turned into the ‘storage wing’ of the London Transport Museum, Covent Garden. Here they keep exhibits that aren’t restored or catalogued yet, or are too big to put into the main museum. For example, they have an immaculately restored 1938 4-car tube train which still goes out on high days and holidays to satisfy the needs of enthusiasts’ specials and the like. Unless they’re having an open day, with trade stands and rides for the kids, don’t expect much help with identifying what’s there – it’s not all labelled, although ’a bus’, ‘another bus’ etc. isn’t that difficult, is it? I think you have to apply by phone to get permission to look around, although the genuine open days are fun.
Other attractions within even a cycle ride, but not technically in my ‘home town’ would include Kew Gardens, just over the river from Brentford, Richmond Park, not far beyond Kew, once you’ve summoned the courage to travel ‘sarf of der river’ (obviously, London cabbies should only attempt this whilst off-duty). We’re not that far from Wembley and the newly rising stadium can actually be seen from high spots in my locality. Twickenham RFU* ground only misses being in Hounslow by a couple of hundred yards
*(‘Haitch-Kew’ to you lovers of men that play with odd shaped balls)
Oh yes, and that place called London, more specifically, Hyde Park Corner, is only 12 miles from Hounslow itself. This alone makes you wonder what the roads must have been like for Hounslow to have been the first coaching stop in winter!
MY OWN COUNTRY PILE
I actually live in what used to be a village called Heston – this lies north of Hounslow town centre on the link road to Southall, home to London’s largest Asian community. It therefore follows that there’s no local shortage of good Indian restaurants! Heston still has a Village Hall, quite an old pub, unfortunately ‘done up’ to look even older with ‘someone else’s beams’ inside, a triangle with a war memorial and a Saxon church, famous for its lych gate out front. This entire microcosm has been declared a conservation area, which is fine, and I even have to apply to prune my magnolia, but sporadic in its enforcement since my neighbour seems to have gotten away with building an entire bungalow in his back garden without so much as a rapt knuckle, let alone being forced to gain retrospective planning permission. My own road is known as Old Cote Drive as an 'old cote' (cottage) stood on the corner until the 1940s - this was Heston's second from last thatched cottage but thankfully, the last has a preservation order on it. Property developers 'accidentally' let the roof burn away recently, but the council's making them put it back - tee hee.
Heston isn’t famous now, except perhaps as the last M4 services before London, and location for that trial motorway bus lane, but before the Second World War, during the ‘Munich Crisis’, it was the location for an airport – the one where that nice Mr Chamberlain stood on the steps of a plane, with a piece of paper saying that WW2 was cancelled. The war came alng anyway, after which Heston was declared 'too near' the nascent Heathrow and closed down - it's the westbound motorway service area and a golf course now although one of the older central buildings with control tower can occasionally be glimpsed.
I'd not previously done any research, as I'd never heard of anyone famous coming from Heston (not even young Charlton!), although if the difficulty I have getting out of Old Cote Drive is anything to go by, we ought to be a hot bed of recruitment for F1 drivers as the semmingly entire population of Southall drives to Hounslow in the morning.
I did some digging around after thinking to myself 'SURELY, SOMEONE famous must come from Heston?!', and waddya know, Jimmy Page of Led Zepellin was born here in 1944. It's also the last resting place of a couple of interesting bods, one being Sir Joseph Banks, an illustrator aboard Charles Darwin's Beagle, and the hapless Trooper White, who had the dubious distinction of being the last man in the British Army to be punished by being flogged to death!
Quite close to Heston, lies the erstwhile village of Cranford (no, not the Mrs Gaskell one, that was really Knutford, Cheshire anyway), where you will find the Church Of St Dunstan in a corner of the capacious Cranford Park right next to the M4. Nothing remarkable about that you might think, but if I said to you ‘ A pint? Have you gone raving mad? Why, that’s very nearly an armful!’ you might realise that this is the burial spot of 'The Lad from Cheam', comedic genius, Tony Hancock. I really must go over there some day myself!
Like a lot of outer London locations, public transport access to central London is excellent if crowded (and fault prone) during the rush hour. The Piccadilly Line serves three Hounslow stations, Osterley and Boston Manor before leaving the borough, then briefly flirting with Chiswick (outside rush hours only) before deserting us for Ealing and Hammersmith permanently.
Also, the main line in the form of South West Trains covers Hounslow, Isleworth, Syon Lane, Brentford, Kew Bridge and Chiswick. This is a more pleasant way to travel, particularly in summer, although the Hounslow line into Waterloo often only runs every 30 minutes, stopping at all stations, unlike neighbouring Richmond, which enjoys frequent and limited-stop trains.
Travelling north-south in these outer reaches is something else though, and mainly the domain of bus travel, which can swing from a breeze-through to horrendously ‘I’ll get out and walk, it’s faster’. However, an all-London bus pass is only £2.50 for the whole day, which is not bad if you’ve GOT all day to get there!
EATING OUT, GOING OUT
Ah yes, my favourite subject. I don’t limit myself to the immediate borough here, as I tend to travel around outside the rush hour, so anywhere within say 8 miles is fair game. In that circle, we’ve Indian (obviously), Chinese, Thai, Greek, Moroccan, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Lebanese, and any number of bistro-like eateries serving generally Mediterranean dishes. Ironically, I’d be hard put to it to name a ‘British’ gaff, except perhaps for those with the poncy menus in French for things that are quite mundane. I’m just waiting for the ‘Purée de Petits Pois avec Tripes Aux Échalottes’.
“Right then, who wanted t’tripe ‘n’ onions wi’ mushy peas?”
The best part is, with all this competition, they mostly have to be good or go under.
As I’ve mentioned before, Richmond Theatre is close by, and frequently puts on shows and plays prior to their West End debut. Likewise, there’s The Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith and whilst we’re there, The ‘Labatt’s Apollo’, a famous rock venue, although, ah kin remember it when it were just t’bloody Odeon wi’t’front row costin’ 1 ‘n’ 9.
For somewhere I couldn’t identify as home at the beginning, I’ve surprised myself – perhaps I’ll give it another ten years to see if it grows on me! That should tie in with the missus retiring.
You do begin to realise however, that very nature of a suburb tends to mean that you can identify where a lot of history USED to be before they built over it
It might be a bit worn round the edges, litter-strewn (so is Amsterdam so I feel a bit better about that now) and overly busy, but I can’t imagine burying myself in the heart of the country, although next to Tony Hancock would be nice!
This is my hometown, what’s yours?
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- Shrewsbury is my Hometown!
- Carlisle, The Great Border City....
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- Fish Town is Golden
- Back in time.
- Cirencester - A beautiful town rich with things to see and do
- Outstanding, Authentic Thai Cuisine in new surroundings
- What a wonderful weekend!