Piccadilly Tube line walk 15: Sudbury Town walk to Rayners Lane

Walk 15

SUDBURY TOWN walk to RAYNERS LANE

2 1/4 hours

A suburban train line was built for what is now the District Line between Acton Town and South Harrow via Sudbury Town in 1903. The line was extended to Rayners Lane in 1910 in order to provide a connection with the Metropolitan Line. The line was transferred to the Piccadilly Line in 1933.

Routing note: This walk connects in Sudbury Town with walk 14. It connects in Rayners Lane with Metropolitan line walk 4.

Please note that you will use woodland paths that could be muddy at the start of the walk. The end of the walk beyond South Harrow station is mostly along suburban roads due to a lack of alternatives.

SUDBURY TOWN

Sudbury Town Underground station

The station opened in 1903 on the new District line branch running between Ealing Common and South Harrow and was kept when the line transferred to the Piccadilly line in 1932.

The station building was rebuilt in 1932. The design is by Charles Holden and is actually very similar to that of Alperton station. You can see in Sudbury Town how the design works better for a station where there is no embankment to shadow the tall windows. For some reason, Charles Holden chose exactly the same shape in Sudbury Town than for Acton Town but with less windows.

Sudbury Town station at night

I give you a second picture taken at night because this shows well the effect Charles Holden liked to get. Even without some kind of tower, the station does stand out as a landmark in the suburb through the glow of the concourse lights.

Exit the station at the back (not on the main forecourt). This may be marked “Orchard Gate”

Cross the residential road into Crossgate

At the end L Whitton Avenue East

Very soon R Ashness Gardens, the road turns R and then L again

L after house number 59 into a footpath between two golf courses

The path turns R after about 1/4 mile and leads towards Horsenden Farm, now an information centre for the nature reserve

Walk down the access road to the main road and turn R

Look for the typical Capital Ring wooden signpost

Very soon R again in a footpath uphill. From now on, you can follow the well-marked Capital Ring, a long-distance path around London. The path is marked with green-and-white flags or roundels and is easy to spot. I copy in italics the description given in the official brochure for the section across the open spaces of Horsenden Hill.

Turn right into the wood to start the steep climb up Horsenden Hill. Follow the steps up to a kissing gate. This area is used for cattle grazing in the summer; the cattle are friendly but please keep dogs on leads at this point. Continue ahead to the corner of the field and a second set of steps, beyond those is a bench with a lovely view. At the second kissing gate you emerge into an open field which is the location of a reservoir, cross this, bear right to a third set of steps to reach the summit of Horsenden Hill.

Summit of Horsenden Hill

Horsenden Hill is both an important nature reserve and a protected archeological site. It rises 84 m above sea level and offers therefore extremely extensive views. This made it very useful in Neolithic times as you had better chances to spot game from the hilltop. It continued to be a popular location during the Iron Age as there are clear signs of fields and domestic activities (pottery in particular). In Europe, it would probably have been a prime location for a medieval fortress but England had one single ruler since 1,066 and there was no need for such castles except in the more exposed border lands.

View north from Horsenden Hill

From the hilltop, the only direction in which you have little view is the North because Harrow Hill is about as high as Horsenden Hill. Towards the East, you look towards Wembley and a bit right of this towards the City of London and Canary Wharf.

 

Wembley Stadium from Horsenden Hill

City of London from Horsenden Hill

Towards the Southeast, you see easily the London Eye and in the background the high hill of Crystal Palace.

London Eye from Horsenden Hill

The view south and west is extremely far because of the width of the Thames Valley. It is difficult to point out landmarks in these more rural directions while you do see quite well the queue of planes waiting to land at Heathrow Airport.

View South from Horsenden Hill

View West from Horsenden Hill

Horsenden Wood

Keep ahead across the summit, where a second disused reservoir lies beneath the surface. Pass the Capital Ring signpost and continue on the same line on grass towards Horsenden Wood. Fork half left downhill into the woods with its beautiful old trees (predominantly oak and hornbeam but you may notice a Wild Service tree to the left) and follow the constructed woodland path, with sleeper bridges down through the woods. At a tarmac footpath, turn right for about 40 metres, the left on an indistinct path, keeping parallel to the garden fences over to the right.

Old trees in Horsenden Wood

The path emerges from the wood at a major path junction by the end of Whitton Drive. Turn left along the tarmac path that follows a hedge and ditch. At the end, by the Ballot Box pub, turn right along busy Horsenden Lane North.

Ahead Melville Avenue

Ahead Rosehill Gardens (you leave the Capital Ring here for a few hundred yards as it detours along a boring suburban road)

At the end L into a paved footpath along the last house (no need to go near the towers)

Glimpse of Allen Court estate

The towers are correctly called Allen Court and this was a notorious housing estate. When it was built in the 1960s, the apartments offered modern conveniences like indoor toilets that were quite welcome compared to the derelict Victorian houses many social housing beneficiaries had to live in before. The location had been chosen with the idea that many of the residents would find jobs in factories in Park Royal, three Underground stations away.

Ridding Lane open space

But little thought was given to shopping or leisure activities and the tower residents did not mix well at all with the typical suburban semi-detached house owners in the area. The estate turned into a no-go area when the proportion of jobless young people skyrocketed in the 1970s as factories closed. The borough was unable to do much about the situation until 2010, when a plan was published to demolish the towers and build more sprawling but less overwhelming blocks instead. Demolition is also sensible because apartments from the 1960s were very badly insulated and therefore terribly expensive to heat properly.

Ahead along the edge of the green space until the footpath merges into a narrow access lane parallel to the Underground tracks

At the end R Greenford Road

SUDBURY HILL

Sudbury Hill Underground station

The station opened in 1903 on the new District line branch running between Ealing Common and South Harrow and was kept when the line transferred to the Piccadilly line in 1932.

The station building was rebuilt in 1932. The design is by Charles Holden and is a more modest version of the Sudbury Town station. The main differences are the concrete awning and the single clerestory window in Sudbury Hill instead of two.

Cross the Underground tracks

Ahead on Ford Road crossing train tracks

L South Vale

R Green Lane (a footpath with a clear Capital Ring flagpost)

Green Lane footpath

As the picture shows, this path is a very surprising way of climbing the hill. You don’t really feel like being near a train and Underground station in transport zone 4. The road you will be walking along for a long distance afterwards is also very pleasant and quite green, with sizeable villas. It is actually a private road with a barrier and older maps mention a toll. I know of very few such private toll roads in London (one is in Dulwich).

 

Arts & Crafts villa in South Hill Avenue

The sizeable property on the picture is a nice example of Arts & Crafts, a style that had some following in the 1900s among more discerning middle class citizens. The more usual style was bombastic, using factory-made ormanents and a mix of details from all periods in architectural history. Arts & Crafts extolled supposed medieval preference for quality and inventive handcraft. The shapes are simple, only one material is used (usually bricks) and any ornament is a testimony to the qualifications of the mason (here the horizontal frieze) or the carpenter (the bow window) and is a one-off design. This concept was quite expensive and was logically used mostly on really affluent villas like here.

You leave the Capital Ring trail at the end of Green Lane. The trail continues uphill while you turn L downhill into South Hill Avenue

At the end L Northolt Road

SOUTH HARROW

South Harrow Underground station

The station opened in 1903 on the new District line branch running between Ealing Common and South Harrow and was converted to a through station when the line was extended to Rayners Lane in 1910.

The original station building was converted later to depot facilities and a new station building was erected in 1935 on the occasion of the transfer of the line to the Piccadilly line in 1933. The building was designed by Charles Holden like most stations on this branch of the Piccadilly Line but I guess he was asked to plan a more modest station due to economic conditions in the 1930s.

South Harrow station entrance

Instead of a landmark geometric block with imposing clerestory windows, he designed a cascade of three boxes, the lower one in plain concrete, the upper ones in bricks with a few windows. The geometric lines are blurred by ugly railings added later in order to enable workers to inspect the roofs safely. An other reason for the design might be that Charles Holden’s designs were less suited to stations where the tracks are on top of an embankment.

R Eastcote Lane

This long road is a good example for “Metroland” as such developments came to be called in the 1930s. The Metropolitan Railway had discovered that an activity as a developer was much more profitable than running a railway (it still is today !). It therefore bought huge farm estates in reasonable distance from central London, built a suburban railway to ensure that commuting was possible and sold the land piecemeal for housing at much higher prices than it had paid. The company was criticised after a dozen years for creating soulless suburbs with very limited shopping, no room for schools and sports grounds and very little in terms of public open spaces like parks. As Metroland goes, Eastcote Lane is unusual for being less boring than usual: it has several curves and the road is wide with grass verges.

St Paul’s South Harrow church

Towards the end of Eastcote Lane, the road meets Corbins Lane from the left. There is a spectacular church a few yards into this side road, St Paul’s South Harrow. It is the Anglican parish church for this part of Metroland and is a stunning, listed design from 1937. It is a very uncompromising style of Art Déco. You find here the love for pure geometrical shapes, a rounded bow, clerestory windows, the colour white, all rather typical elements. But there are strictly no ornaments like sunrays that were popular on commercial buildings like cinemas. The side walls of the church nave have no windows, which is unusual and unnecessarily harsh. What you do get is faint reminders of gothic shapes (a buttress and a gabled portal) that are difficult to reconcile with Art Déco.

At the roundabout ahead into Rayners Lane

When you reach a small car park opposite the mouth of Maryatt Avenue, turn L into Newton Ecology Park

Newton Ecology Park

This is a small nature reserve taking advantage of the special ground as it is located at the confluence of two brooks, ensuring good water supply for a pond. But the ground is of bad quality, most of it being piles of construction rubbish spread over clay, and no one knows whether the rubbish was contaminated by metals. The park is quite small and not really maintained except for mowing the grass; a community group that intended to tend to a healing garden soon gave up. This being said, the park is a rare piece of open green space in the Metroland area and is worth enjoying at leisure.

Cross the park ahead towards the main road

R Alexandra Avenue

RAYNERS LANE

Rayners Lane Underground station

The suburban train line through the station was opened by the Metropolitan Railway in 1904 and the station itself was added in 1906 as a plot used in many places by this railway company to encourage suburban development and therefore commuter traffic. A junction was added in 1910 in order to provide access to the railway to Acton and Westminster, operated at the time by the District Railway. Both lines were taken over by the Underground and the District Line branch switched to the Piccadilly Line in 1933.

Rayners Lane station seen from the platforms

The station building was rebuilt in 1932. The design is by Charles Holden and is quite similar to that of Sudbury Town station. The main differences is that the Rayners Lane concourse is more a cube than a rectangle and that the windows are not paired. The view from the platforms is more interesting than the view from the street, showing much better the love of Charles Holden for glass panels.

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