Sunday, 6 December 2015

A walk through my childhood Hanwell

Across the tracks, across the Uxbridge Road... geography makes such a difference. Where are you from? It matters you know...

Each morning, from between the age of three and a bit to the age of four and a bit, my mother would take me to the nursery school on The Avenue (corner of Arlington Road) from home in Hanwell. She'd usually take me over the footbridge, called Jacob's Ladder (below). In those days - the early 1960s, most trains were still steam-hauled; I remember the sudden cloud of dense fog that overwhelmed the bridge whenever an express train puffed through underneath. There was wooden signal box around here where this photo was taken. I loved watching the Greenford-bound push-pull train disappear round the corner, up the branch line to the right, though I had to be held up to see over the side. The main line, built in the 1830s, links London, Slough, Reading, Bath, Bristol and South Wales.

Down through what was in the 1960s an estate of pre-fab housing, past the magistrate's court, past the Green Man, Woolworths, the Top Hat and the Halfway House, then turn right into Grosvenor Road, and here starts London W7. This is Hanwell, still part of the London Borough of Ealing, but no longer W13. And Hanwell W7 represents the most westerly district of Postal London.

Heading down Grosvenor Road, I behold a most fplendid fight. The legendary Reg Allen (London) motorcycle shop, unchanged since my childhood. And a treat as I passed it today - an Indian-built 500cc Enfield Bullet parked outside.

And inside - shelves upon shelves of vintage petrol tanks, speedometers, clutch plates - everything you need to keep your classic British vintage BSA, Norton, Triumph, Ariel, Vincent or AJS on the road. Round the back, a military Royal Enfield dispatch rider's bike in olive drab awaits restoration. And to think this shop was open for business over 50 years ago, when I was a small boy! [Read the history of Reg Allen (London) here.]

Further on down Grosvenor Road was a factory manufacturing garments, which employed many local women. The owner drove a Bentley S3 in silver and grey, which he'd park outside. The factory shut long ago and on its site now stands a small housing estate.

Past the Grosvenor pub (below), no longer smelling as it did with a unique aroma of hops and tobacco. Past an arcade of shops on Oaklands Road that used to contain Tanner's (named after the owners? Or from the fact that most things it sold - sweets, newspapers, toys etc would cost around a tanner - sixpence in old money?), a greengrocer's and Laurence the Butcher's.

And then - turn left off of Oaklands Road into Croft Gardens to see the house where I grew up and spent the first 12 years of my life. Here it is - on the right of the photo below. The two garages on the right were designed and built by my father. The original front garden wall has been replaced, the magnolia tree is still there. When we lived here, the pebble-dashed exterior was painted white, as were the windows, with pale-blue window sills and a pale-blue door.

From September 1962 to July 1969 I attended Oaklands Road Primary School (below) - three years in the Infants, four years in the Juniors. A rare treat awaited me today - as it happened, it was the school's Christmas fair. It was open to the public! I arrived shortly before it was due to close, and - for the first time in 46 years, I stepped back into my childhood. Amazing emotions. The playground, the corridors, the classrooms, the staircase - more garishly painted for the kids of today - but the bricks, the windows, the parquet floor, the gym equipment - all as it was, just one-third smaller than it used to be. My perspective as an 11 year-old has changed. The air-raid shelters in the playground have been turned into vegetable gardens, but everything else was immediately recognisable. Only the cars outside have become more numerous and much larger.

Onwards across Boston Manor Road, and down Trumpers Way towards the Grand Union Canal, that links the Thames at Brentford with the Midlands. Below: the huge warehouse, now a roofing centre, resonated clearly with me as a child. Viewed on a summer's evening from Humes Avenue, the sight of this five story-high corrugated shed on the canal's banks took me back to another place, another time. In those days, it was painted green and was open at the front to the canal (that entire wall where those windows are today) with ceiling-mounted cranes to move goods from the barges.

The canal was the furthest extent of my childhood travels. My bicycle at the time, a single-speed 24" -wheel Hercules Jeep which I got for my tenth birthday, served me well for explorations of the back-end of Elthorne Park and towards the new M4 motorway.

The River Brent joins the Grand Union Canal (below), with the river forking off to the right while to the left, you can see the first of the six locks of the Hanwell Flight that takes the Grand Union up to Southall. Just out of sight behind the trees is the Ealing Hospital, where my children were born and where my mother died.

Away from the canal, towards the Lower Boston Road, an enclave of mid-19th Century houses takes on a special charm as the sun sets and the street lights come on; tea-time, Grandstand on the telly, Final Score, the early-evening news, the Saturday rituals of England. Below: Green Lane, Hanwell. Changing and yet unchanging.

The western reaches of Postal London are divided north-south, W7/W13/W5. But the real dividing line is not the artificial one devised by postmen in 1856, but the old Great Western Railway line as it made its way westward from Paddington. Below: I cross under Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Wharncliffe viaduct to re-emerge on the north side. A long walk back along the Drayton Bridge Road, and I'm home. More childhood recollections on my old blog about that here.

Another good local walk - 11,261 paces. More exploration of Hanwell beckons!

This time two years ago:
Burn less gas - do Ukraine a favour

This time five years ago:
Early evening atmosphere

This time seven years ago:
Toponyms - how many names has Jeziorki?

This time eight years ago:
On the road to Białystok

1 comment:

KrakowJosh said...

Terrific stuff, Michael. Little else to add, but I thoroughly enjoy these explorations and revisitations.