Tag Archive: Middlesex


If you have ever zipped along the Piccadilly line to Heathrow or sped along the M4 westward out of London, the chances are you have been within a few yards of Osterley but not taken much notice. To be fair, you are probably concentrating on the journey and, after a while, one part of a city looks pretty much the same as another. Yet, within a few miles of the centre of London, and closer by miles than London Heathrow Airport, is a corner of London that is still rural Middlesex. If it weren’t for the presence of the nearby flight path for planes en route to or from Heathrow, you could imagine that you were in some park in a country estate.

I am a townie, and it came as a surprise to find Osterley Park in our neck of the woods – the same London borough where I grew up and within easy distance of where I went school. Near enough to amble to during a “study period”…

Naturally, there have been some changes since I were a lad. For a start, there is now a fence and an admission fee between the park and the gardens; the toilets are up to a modern standard; and holiday activities put on through the auspices of the National Trust are now de rigueur. Time was it was just a park with a basic cafe which was never open went we went.

If you wish to see inside the house, do check for opening times and prices – and car parking fees for non members. It won’t take you long to visit and there are some stairs to climb but you do get to see both “upstairs” and “downstairs”. You may get a sense of some of the local history of the immediate area – I was intrigued by the old maps in a corridor on the lower floor. Mostly they showed the land owned by the Jersey family including one which showed the then new extension to the Metropolitan Railway (now part of the Piccadilly line). One did feature where I grew up but there were orchards, not houses, then.

You can’t get there easily from the motorway, and the underground station which used to serve the park was moved decades ago a couple of a hundred yards down the line so it is a bit of a walk from the “new” station. I say “new” but it was there before I was born! The old booking office is currently, I think, a bookshop – at least it was once.

The photos don’t really do justice to the place. Flash photography is not permitted in the house so the photos I took there were a little disappointing. It is pleasant in Spring/Summer but I preferred it out of season on a week day with a chill in the air and few, if any, other noisy day trippers to interrupt the ambiance.

 

Hampton Court Maze

As ever, when we looked at the admission prices for the palace and grounds of Hampton Court we thought they looked a bit steep and decided just to admire the Tudor Palace from the outside. It was only later on that same day that we decided that perhaps they were fairly typical prices – cheaper than several other popular tourist attractions, in fact. Be that as it may, our day out took us on local buses with a view from the top deck which I enjoyed because I used to live around here. I come from Middlesex even though these days my county has mostly been swallowed up by London.

The maze is one of the oldest in the world but not very big. I suppose it took us about a quarter of an hour – but I reckon it was about my sixth visit! The first time I went as a child we probably paid in Old Money something like 6d each. (That’s 6 “old” pence). To find it you need to go near the Lion Gate which is not the main entrance but opposite the entrance to Bushy Park. By the way, you can get to Hampton Court by train and then walk across the bridge over the Thames and you are there.

We took some photos too, here around the palace:

and here in the maze:

I know that about England…

… was my thought when I turned to page 6. Been there several times, done that, heard the bells (once) and remember fondly the people who lived not so far away.

This book “I never knew that about England” (illustrated edition) has another feature that also drew my approval: the counties. No metropolitan boroughs or new-fangled unitary authorities in the chapter headings – which one may take or leave. However, there is Middlesex (not London) starting on page 183 so we’re off to a good start. I can’t claim to be an expert reviewer but I noted with a little satisfaction that I have visited all bar 6 of the 39 counties – and my total includes all of them if one does not insist on having stayed at least one night in the county somewhere. The reason given for following a county-based framework for the book (and the “traditional” ones at that) is that they are based on natural boundaries and still “inspire loyalty”.

Having glanced at the book, I suppose I ought to read a bit of it and decide whether it is any good after all that. The first thing to note is that Mr Winn does not attempt to include central London on the grounds that it “would make a book in itself”. The second thing to note is that this book is not a comprehensive guide – it is intended to highlight people and places that are not at the top of the list of what you might already know.

And to be fair, there is much in the book that is new to me. I think I already knew that the composer Ralph Vaughn Williams waw born in Down Ampney – I didn’t realise that that was near Cirencester in Gloucestershire. Nor did I realise that the author of Thomas the Tank Engine stories lived in Rodborough near Stroud. I had heard about the Torrey Canyon tanker disaster in Cornwall but had not realised that Lizard Village is the only mainland British Village south of 50° N. I have heard of Frank Hornby manufacturer of model railways but discover that he was born in Liverpool (in this book decidedly in Lancashire, not Merseyside!).

Then in Yorkshire, we are told of Cundall, which is described as a Thankful Village. I think I have mentioned these before elsewhere. They are a handful of places where they do not have a war memorial. No, not because they are staunchly pacifist or making a particular political point. War memorials were erected in memory of those who lost their lives in the first and second World Wars. In the Thankful Villages no memorial was put up because all their sons came back. I find it moving, to say the least, that there are only a couple of dozen of them. They are listed on page 321 in the book.

In this season of Remembrance, we honour the memory of “the fallen”, but let’s also take a leaf out of these villages’ book and be grateful for those who do come back – and do right by them too.

Meanwhile in Middlesex, my home county, we note that the “territory of the middle Saxons” is the second smallest English county (by area). But we do not learn much else. I could tell you that London’s first airport was at Hounslow Heath (before relocating to Croydon) for instance. I wonder if it is assumed that everything else is pretty much well known – but under a London heading. Did you know that Twickenham Rugby Ground (and RFU headquarters) is actually in Whitton (both in Middlesex)? Or that Hampton Court (recently glimpsed as the backdrop for road cycling during the 2012 Olympics) is in Middlesex? Or that the inventor Trevor Baylis lived on an island on the Middlesex side of the River Thames? Or that the baseline for Ordinance Survey maps was first laid out on Hounslow Heath? Or maybe you did. I just felt a bit shortchanged there.

Having said that, I expect we could all pick holes on behalf of our home and/or favourite county. Overall this is a fair coffee table book – not a book of reference. Three stars or 6/10.

“I never knew that about England” by Christopher Winn, illustrations by Mai Osawa, published by Ebury Press, 2008
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