In recent years an unusual sight has been spotted in the skies over Ealing – bright green parakeets. This exotic (for England) bird first appeared around here some ten years or so ago, and when our neighbour first told us he had seen a small flock, we thought he must have had one glass of wine too many! But no – a few days later we saw them ourselves. Gradually sightings became more and more frequent, and today rarely a day goes by that I don’t spot at least a couple. But I still thrill to the flash of bright green, even if the screeching can occasionally be an irritant early in the morning.
There are several theories as to why these birds have moved in (and not just here – other places in the south of England now have resident parakeets). The most popular “urban myth” is that a tame pair was released in Richmond Park a few miles to the south by an owner who no longer wanted or felt able to care for them. They settled into the park, bred, and the flock grew, gradually expanding its range to take in neighbouring suburbs such as ours. I have no idea if there is any truth in this story, but certainly these birds must have descended from some who were once captive, as this is definitely not a native English species!
• covers 55 square kilometres in West London
• is the 11th largest London borough by size
• is the 10th least densely populated of all boroughs
• had 301,800 residents in mid-2005
• is the 3rd largest London borough in terms of population
• has 41% people belonging to black or minority ethnic groups
• is the 3rd most diverse borough in London
• contains 4.1% of the population and 1.4% of the land area of London as a whole
• has lower unemployment than London as a whole but higher than the English average
• has 8.4 square km. of parks and green spaces, 19 major open areas, 10 miles of canals and two rivers (the Brent and the Crane)
• has over 500 buildings listed as having special architectural or historic interest
One of the reasons we like living in Ealing is the great mix of people that also live here: 41% of residents, for instance, belong to black or minority ethnic groups, and 31.0% of the population were born outside the European Union (EU). In fact it is the third most diverse borough in London (after Tower Hamlets and Hackney). Apart from English, children in Ealing schools speak more than 100 languages. The most widely spoken are: Punjabi with over 5,000 speakers, Urdu with nearly 2,500 speakers, Somali with nearly 1,800 speakers, Gujarati with over 1,500 speakers and Arabic with nearly 1,200. Ealing has the highest number of Sikhs in London with nearly 26,000 and one of the highest Muslim populations in London with over 31,000.
Southall, in the west of the Borough, is the unofficial centre for South Asians in Britain. The first group arrived here in 1950, due to the closeness of Heathrow Airport, and the population has been increasing ever since: According to the Commission for Racial Equality, over 55% of Southall's population of 70,000 is Indian/Pakistani. The Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, which opened in 2003, is the largest Sikh temple outside of India. There is also a very strong presence of Somalis here.
As elsewhere in Britain, the Polish community here has grown considerably since Poland joined the EU and its migrant workers have been able to come to the UK freely. But unlike elsewhere, there was already a Polish community here, as the centre of Ealing and its surrounding districts has been the main home to Polish immigrants in London for over half a century. This goes back to World War II, when Polish pilots fighting in the Battle of Britain flew from the nearby aerodrome, RAF Northolt, where there is now a landmark Polish War Memorial. When I first moved here, over 25 years ago, it was already quite common to hear Polish spoken in the shops and to be able to buy Polish and other Eastern European delicacies, although the proliferation of Polish shops is a new phenomenon. One of the churches in Ealing Broadway is a Polish one, and there is also an annual Polish festival.
I confess I took much of the following from Wikipedia, as I didn’t know as much about the history of my own area as I perhaps should have done. Writing this page for VT has opened my eyes to a number of beautiful old buildings that I pass regularly and have failed to appreciate properly until now!
According to archaeological evidence (e.g. Iron Age pots discovered on Horsenden Hill to the north), parts of Ealing have been occupied for at least 7,000 years.. The name Ealing comes from the Saxon place-name Gillingas. There is known to have been a settlement here in the 12th century, surrounded by the great forest that covered all this area west of London. The earliest surviving English census is the 1599 one for Ealing, which was a tally of all 85 households in the village giving the names of the inhabitants, their ages, relationships and occupations.
Settlements were scattered throughout the area. Many of them were along what is now called St. Mary's Road, near to the parish church of St. Mary's, which dates back to the early 12th century. The centre of the parish was thus in present-day South Ealing about a mile south of the modern centre, Ealing Broadway. The parish was divided into manors, such as Gunnersbury and Pitshanger. These were farmed, the crops being mostly rye, but also wheat. There were also animals such as cows, sheep and chickens.
However, there was an important road running from west to east through the centre of the parish. This road, later to be known as the Uxbridge Road (and at the heart of modern Ealing, the Broadway), ran eastwards to London and westwards to Oxford. A large number of inns were situated along this route, where horses could be changed and travellers refresh themselves, and of course like all such roads at that time, it was an infamous haunt for highwaymen.
The building of the Great Western Railway in the 1830s, part of which passed through the centre of Ealing, led to the opening of a railway station on the Broadway in 1879. The scattered villages began to grow into towns and to merge into unbroken residential areas. This was boom-time for Ealing, and led to its crowning as “Queen of the Suburbs”. In the next few decades, much of the town was rebuilt. In the centre this was predominantly semi-detached housing designed for the rising middle class, and to the south and west cheaper terraced housing aimed at the lower middle classes – and we live in one of the latter today, although they are no longer “cheap” LOL.
At the same time, better transport links were established, including horse buses as well as trains, which enabled people to more easily travel to work in London and returning home each evening to what was still considered to be the countryside. Much of this countryside was rapidly disappearing; however parts of it were preserved as public parks, such as Lammas Park and Ealing Common.
It was during the Victorian period that Ealing became a town. Roads were built, drainage provided, and schools & public buildings erected. The man responsible for much of this was Charles Jones, Borough Surveyor from 1863–1913. He planted the horse chestnut trees on Ealing Common and designed the Town Hall, both the present one and the older structure which is now a bank (on the Mall). Ealing Broadway became a major shopping centre. He was also a friend of Spencer Horatio Walpole and was responsible for persuading him to sell Pitzhanger Manor and the adjoining grounds to the Borough.
In 1901 Ealing Urban District was incorporated as a municipal borough, Walpole Park was opened and the first electric trams ran along the Uxbridge Road. The built-up area continued to expand in all directions – for instance North Ealing, where we used to live, has some attractive Edwardian (1910s) houses.
The building of a new shopping centre, which opened in 1984, drastically altered the centre of Ealing, and led to a property price boom (which we were lucky enough to benefit from). It is still, as it was in Victorian times, considered a desirable (though no longer fashionable) place for commuters to live, and still continues to combine something of the best of both worlds as it strives to live up to its other billing as one of London’s leafiest boroughs.