The sprawl came later. In early Victorian times, as London was expanding to become a global megalopolis, the capital of Empire was a cluster of towns and villages surrounding a concentrated city centre. Brought together by railway, by the end of Queen Victoria's reign, the rural character of places like Ealing was lost, and suburbia came to form London's outer rim. The sprawl - large swathes of uninteresting shopping parades and endless streets of near-identical housing - came after WWI, stretching westward beyond Ealing - Greenford, Ickenham, Yeading, Northolt, Ruislip, Hillingdon - and only then does Greater London give way to countryside.
But let us return to Queen Victoria's first decades on the throne. In 1838, the railway arrived in Ealing. Opened on 1 December of that year (it will be 175 years old in six weeks' time), the connection to London's Paddington Station on the Great Western Railway opened the way to Ealing's rapid suburbanisation. Fine houses of the well-to-do began climbing Castlebar Hill, Eaton Rise and Mount Park. The first houses were plain, solid structures; later the buildings would become increasingly ornate with fancy decoration. This trend reversed as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, and the Victorian era gave way to the Edwardian. (Click here for Ealing Council's Character Appraisal of the Mount Park Conservation Area)
Walking through Ealing today, the sense of the suburb's history, its connection with the 19th Century remains strong. Many of the three-storey family houses along Eaton Rise have been converted into flats, front gardens into off-street parking for numerous cars. But still the essential architectural fabric of Ealing remains as it was in my childhood, and for a century before that.
|Water trough for horses, north-west corner of Haven Green, erected by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in the 1880s. Horse-drawn vehicles would have crowded the roads leading to the railway station.|
Spreading out from the church are many broad, tree-lined streets of houses for prosperous families. Prices? A flick through the local newspaper's property section reveals that you will need to find somewhere between £1.5m to £1.7m for a large, double-fronted house with large garden at rear.
|Later-Victorian house; 1880s or '90s; ground floor window bays are in stone, plainer upper storey. Leafy gardens boast mature trees.|
|At the latter end of the Victorian era, simpler, cottage-style architecture became fashionable.|
|The year 1898 visible on a decorative element above a school on Castlebar Road.|
|Clearly Edwardian; built between 1900 and the outbreak of WWI, simpler in style, less ornamentation, timber-framing harking back to Merrie England.|
Ealing went on to experience continued development throughout the inter-war years; my parents' house by Cleveland Park was built in 1933. A further wave of development took place in the 1960s, with new estates springing up around Castlebar Hill (the ugliest buildings in all Ealing, in my opinion). Townhouses, with integral ground-floor garages, also appeared here and there, filling gaps between existing buildings. The 1980s saw the apogee of the conversion of big houses into numerous flats, and the primacy of the car over public transport, cyclists and pedestrians.
Today I see a tendency to restore; to expose and delight in original architectural details. Car use in London is falling, Londoners are among the most satisfied citizens of any EU capital with their public transport system. But a note of caution - the rich-poor divide is becoming increasingly visible in the Borough of Ealing; cross the railway line west of the Argyle Road and you will enter the dismal world of pay-day loan stores, shuttered shop fronts and decay of West Ealing; ten minutes on foot yet a world away from the leafy Edwardian and Victorian streets around St Stephen's church.
This time last year:
Pl. Zbawiciela's rainbow vandalised
This time two years ago:
Why no one is Occupying Warsaw
This time three years ago:
Of sausages and drains
This four three years ago:
In search of the Sublime Aesthetic at 36,000 ft
This time six years ago:
London from the air