Walk by the Thames, Strand on the Green
This is one of our favourite easy-to-reach spots for a walk on a sunny weekend. Strand on the Green lies immediately to the east of Kew Bridge, along the north bank of the Thames. It leads to a pretty footpath which runs along the bank of the river, and is lined with numerous imposing 18th-century houses and local pubs. These are remarkable for their raised entrances and wooden lintels, necessary because the Thames is tidal here and floods quite regularly. A stroll along here affords great views of the river, with passing boat traffic and a good likelihood of spotting a few herons. The several attractive old pubs are an additional attraction of course. On a sunny day you may find it hard to get a table outside as this is a very popular spot, but if you’re only having a drink the river wall makes a good alternative place to perch. Wikipedia describes the pubs as follows:
~ The Bell & Crown; licensed by 1751, closest to Kew Bridge.
~ The City Barge; licensed by 1786. This pub was known as the Maypole Inn until 1807, when it was changed in honour of the City barge moored nearby. The pub was largely destroyed by a bomb during World War II, and the old bar is all that remains of the original inn.
~ The Bull's Head; licensed by 1722, furthest east from Kew Bridge.
Our favourite for outdoor drinking is possibly the Bell & Crown, while the Bull’s Head has the most attractive (in my view) interior.
If instead of (or as well as) visiting Strand on the Green you cross the river via Kew Bridge, you have a choice of several more good strolling places. You could turn left along the river bank and follow it past allotments and pretty houses to a couple of other nice pubs – though their north facing aspect makes them a less attractive option in the summer. Alternatively take a wander around Kew Green, visit Kew Gardens, or turn right from the bridge to follow the Thames Path beside the Garden to a spot that will give you a wonderful view of Syon House, designed by Robert Adam and London home of the Duke of Northumberland.
Take the 65 bus from Ealing Broadway and get off on Kew Bridge.
The Hoover Building
Yes, this tip is about an industrial building! But this is a rather special building for anyone who admires Art Deco design, and its importance is recognised in its Grade 1 listed building status.
The Hoover building is a stunning example of the Art Deco style, otherwise known as 1930’s “Moderne”. It was built for the Hoover company, makers of vacuum cleaners so well-known that today Hoover is often used in English to mean any such cleaner. It was designed by the architecture firm Wallis Gilbert and partners and erected between 1931 and 1935. It served as both office and factory for the Hoover company for many years up to the late 1980's. I well remember driving past it as a child whenever we went to visit my grandparents in north London – it was the first of several “family landmarks” on that exciting journey!
The building was constructed using “Snowcreate”, a white concrete that is said to always stay looking like new even after the harshest of British weathers. It is beautifully decorated with coloured ceramic tiles in an Egyptian-influenced design. At night it is illuminated with an eerie fluorescent green light, although complaints from neighbouring houses mean that these lights have to be turned off at 10.00 PM every night.
When Hoover closed their operation here the building stood neglected for some years, its scruffy appearance causing me to doubt the claims made for “Snowcreate” concrete! However in 1989 it was bought by the Tesco supermarket chain, with plans to turn it into a superstore. Luckily (and probably necessarily, given the listed building status) the superstore is hidden behind, and built in a sympathetic 1990s interpretation of Art Deco. Meanwhile the facade of the main building was painstakingly restored to its former glory. Only the sign on the front has changed – no longer “Hoover Limited” but “Hoover Building”.
Nearby is another Art Deco gem, less well-known but still worth seeking out – a branch of Lloyds Bank in a building dating back to the 1920s and decorated with green tiles in a design reminiscent of pineapple leaves.
Directions Drive north from West Ealing on Argyle Road, cross the A40 and turn right – the Hoover Building is on your left after the next junction, but if you want to stop and take a look you should turn left before reaching it into Bideford Avenue, otherwise you’ll find yourself joining the flow of traffic on the A 40 and heading for central London!
A day out at Syon Park
A short drive or bus ride from Ealing, Syon Park has something for all the family and would make a lovely day out, although if you take advantage of all it has to offer you will find yourself spending quite a lot of money. At its heart is Syon House, the ancestral London home of the Dukes of Northumberland, with a stunning interior designed by one of the most famous of British architects, Robert Adam. The house was built on the site of a medieval abbey, named after Mount Zion in the Holy Land, which was destroyed by Henry VIII during the English Reformation. Apparently though the Abbey had its revenge on the king, as in 1547, when his coffin was resting here overnight on its way to Windsor for burial, it burst open, and in the morning dogs were found licking up the remains! In 1594 Henry Percy, the ninth Earl of Northumberland, acquired the estate through marriage and it has remained in the family ever since. There is a full and interesting history of Syon and its association with the Percy family on the Park’s website.
The redesign of the house under Adam took place in the mid 18th century and was accompanied by a redesign of the grounds as well, led by the famous landscape designer Capability Brown. As it says on the website, "Brown and Adam had more in common than just being fashionable designers; both were aspiring to create a new ideal form of an earlier time. Whilst Adam’s architecture was inspired by classical Rome, so Brown took the medieval deer park as a model for an ideal countryside. Both were consciously borrowing the connotations of wealth, power and antiquity, and packaging them for their clients.”
These grounds are one of the things we most enjoy about Syon and make regular visits to see. The parkland areas are open free of charge and are popular for walks, picnics, ball games etc. There is a separate more cultivated (but still very natural) area, with a lake surrounded by trees, shrubs and flower beds. A path winds round the lake and there are lots of secluded benches and pretty views. Admission is charged for this part of the grounds but is a reasonable £4.50 for adults, with concessions at £3.50 and children £2.50 (2009 prices). This also includes what is known as the Grand Conservatory
Visits to both house and gardens cost £9.00 for adults, £8.00 for concessions £8.00, and £4.00 for children, with family tickets at £20.00. This is well worth doing on your first visit, as the house is wonderful, but living nearby we no longer bother with that as one or two visits are enough to have seen all its treasures (though I’m thinking as I write this that it’s a while since we’ve been inside, so maybe some time next year we’ll go back for a refresher …)
But once you have exhausted the pleasures of house and gardens, there is still so much to do here. We visit regularly to shop in the excellent Garden Centre which sells very good quality plants and many other garden necessities as well. Their selection of pots is particularly good, and as we have a patio garden this is a must for us.
Other attractions here include a so-called “Tropical Forest”, which is a reptile house with exotic reptiles, birds, fish, mammals & insects. We have never been in here, though we did enjoy several visits to the Butterfly House which sadly is no longer there. This tropical forest attraction does sound good, especially for children, but will cost you an additional £5.00 for adults and £3.75 for children. Also for children, especially young ones, is the Snakes and Ladders Adventure Playground, with, again, an additional charge – check the website for details of this if you’re taking little ones along.
With all these attractions, and other shopping opportunities too, plus a café, you can see that it would be very easy to spend a whole day, and a whole lot of money, here at Syon. But you can also have a free day out if you simply enjoy the parklands, with their views of the River Thames, and take along a picnic lunch and a Frisbee!
See directions here. Check the website too for opening hours, which can be complicated.
- Castles and Palaces
The Ealing Club
In the 1960s Ealing became for a while the “home” of British Blues, with the opening of the Ealing Blues Club by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies in March 1962 in a basement under a tea-shop opposite Ealing Broadway Station. It was here that the Rolling Stones were formed (when Alexis Korner introduced Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to Brian Jones here) and here that they played man of their early gigs. Here too Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Pete Townshend all played in their formative years. The last of these grew up in the Ealing area (in Hanwell, a few miles to the west of Ealing Broadway) and, according to the website now dedicated to the preservation of the Club’s memories, developed ”feedback on his guitars at the first Who gigs at the Oldfield hotel (Greenford)” and ”practiced his auto-destructive art on the Marshall speakers sourced locally in the first Marshall shop in Hanwell.”
Keith Richards said in his 2010 autobiography “Life”:
“Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner got a club going, the weekly spot at the Ealing Jazz Club, where Rhythm and Blues freaks could conglomerate. Without them there might have been nothing”
A group of committed local enthusiasts has formed a charitable company, The Ealing Club Community Interest Company, and is campaigning for more live music in Ealing in recognition of its musical heritage. They are also planning to make a documentary film, “Suburban Steps to Rockland”, to highlight why Ealing is considered to be "The Cradle of British Rock".
Meanwhile the location of the club is still a night-club, currently called the Red Room, and is popular with local young people and students – many of whom are probably unaware of the venue’s place in popular music history despite the recently-unveiled blue plaque on its wall.
- Arts and Culture
The Old Fire Station
Near St Mary’s Church in South Ealing is a small square, St Mary’s Square, which today is bisected by busy South Ealing Road. A group of pretty cottages remain here dating from the early 19th century village. At the end of the terrace is this old Victorian fire station, now forming part of the offices of TransIndus, the tour company. This square marks the southern boundary of that earlier village, with its northern end at what is today Ealing Green on the southern edge of the Broadway area. Unfortunately diligent searching of the internet has failed to provide me with any real information about this quaint old building, but it is so photogenic that I had to include it here.
- Historical Travel