HANGER LANE walk to NORTHOLT
2 3/4 hours
This line was originally a railway line opened in 1906 and was converted to a branch of the Central Line in 1947.
Routing note: The obvious connections are in Hanger Lane to Central Line walk 3 and in Northolt to Central Line walk 5. An other convenient connection considering the way I wrote the description is in Greenford with Paddington network walk 2 (coming from Ealing Broadway).
Several sections of my route are away from roads and therefore not signposted in a consistent manner. You cannot really get lost but you might feel more comfortable checking on an area map when in doubt. Alternatively, Transport for London has a convenient free map (Local Cycling Guide 6).
The original station was a stop on the train line from Paddington to Ruislip, opened in 1904 under the name Twyford Abbey. That station closed already in 1911 because a new station called Brentham had been opened not far away. Brentham closed in 1947 when the train line was converted to a Central Line branch and a new station was built in the present location.
The station has a peculiar layout. The idea was to open a station near the major interchange between the North Circular Road and the Western Motorway. Architects came upon the idea of building the motorway interchange on pillars exactly above the Underground tracks, with the station being in the middle of the interchange. This enabled exits to all directions from the central stairwell using subways under the motorways.
Because it is obviously quite dark under a motorway interchange, the central reservation of the interchange was used as a “light well”. The drum-like structure has no actual use at ground level and is full of glass panels lightening the ticket hall that is underneath. The simple cylindrical shape is very much an Art Déco design from the late 1930s but cost issues in 1947 led to using concrete rather than bricks as would have been popular before World War II. It seems the architects retained the option of a ground level access with a porch but traffic made this redundant.
Exit the station into Hanger Lane on the south side of the tracks and of the motorway (look at the area map in the station to take the appropriate subway !)
Very soon R Brunswick Road
L Sandall Road
L footpath across Hanger Hill Park
(Fox Lane -the footpath- is not marked, but starts just opposite Clarendon Road and the start of the footpath is where my picture is taken).
Seen from here, Clarendon Road gives you a feeling for the lay of the land. It slopes downwards to the river Brent, which you will reach later on. The road is very much a development from the 1930s with the so popular mock Tudor house eaves. What is conspicuous though is the width of the central reservation, a very pleasant feature for residents when looking through their windows and a proof of affluence considering the price of the ground.
The footpath runs on the border between a public golf course and small Fox Wood. This is a pleasantly hilly area that goes back to the park of the local mansion, built in 1790 and converted into a golf course clubhouse in the 1930s. The rest of the estate was developed into a mock Tudor garden suburb in a style similar to Clarendon Road. The borough negotiated quite efficiently with the ground owner back in 1907, demanding a piece of land in exchange for allowing drainage of the areas that were to be developed. The piece of land was then converted in part to a small suburban open space, the actual Hanger Hill Park. It had no flower beds, just a bit of shrubbery and a few banks.
The conspicuous and somewhat strange cubic tower in the background is a water reservoir linked to the development of the suburb. The reservoir had already opened in 1888 taking advantage of the high ground and was decommissioned in 1943. Modern water tanks are in plain concrete, but Victorians built in bricks and this material was well suited to vertical shapes like on the tower, giving a fashionable hint of medieval castles.
at the end R Hillcrest Road
When the road turns L, stay ahead on the footpath and cycle route (a blue sign shows “Greenford”)
The footpath turns slightly L as Augusta Walk parallel to Mount Avenue
At the end of the footpath R towards the estate, then L for a few yards and very soon R again into Brentham Way
You are crossing now a conservation area that is considered one of the most important testimonies to the garden suburb movement in London. More than 80% of the houses in the area were designed by two architects according to an urban master plan that paid much attention to avoiding straight roads with identical terraces. Roads were to follow the hill contour, giving variety while walking through the area, and houses were to have interesting views from the windows.
The first architect (Frederic Cavendish Pearson) designed between 1907 and 1911 no less than 135 houses. You will see some of them at the start of Brentham Way and later on in Meadvale Road. He was very young (24 in 1907) and was enthusiastic about the Arts & Crafts movement. You will notice this if you look at construction details, one-off details that only experienced craftsmen can build being a hallmark of this artistic movement. One typical design element he liked was unusual room shapes. The house at the corner of Brentham Way with Fowler’s Walk is a good example of a complex roof shape by Pearson.
The second architect (George Lister Sutcliffe) was a more sedate personality and rationalised planning by keeping to a limited number of simpler shapes, but he was careful in varying them in order to avoid any feeling of monotony. My pictures show mostly designs by him.
The road turns R and soon again L
At the end L Brunswick Road
Very soon R Neville Road
At the end L Meadvale Road
After passing a set of houses, the road leads past Brentham Club with a conspicuous brick tower. There is a particularly complex roof detail at the uppermost level and it was indeed built in 1911 on designs by architect Pearson. The club is a rather unusual institution for London: it is not particularly exclusive and rather affordable, but it does enable members to practice sports within the community of members unlike public facilities. Brentham Garden Suburb was built by a sort of cooperative society and the club is a logical expression of this collective feeling of belonging. Urban development cooperatives have nearly fully disappeared after World War II but there a few recent examples usually led by an attempt to develop “ecologically aware” suburbs (or just blocks of flats in many cases).
After house nr. 128 R into Pitshanger Park
Walk towards the river and follow the river downstream. The footpath passes tennis courts and ends near a bowling ground
Pitshanger Park is an open space landscaped on former farmland. The borough bought it in 1905 (with additional purchases in 1913) in order to supply a public park with sports amenities to the new suburb of Brentham. There was no intention to provide a formal town park so far away from the central part of the borough of Ealing and the land was also not well suited because it was prone to flooding by the river Brent. It is actually one of very few parks in London along a naturally flowing river and is therefore also an important nature feature. The other bank of the river is protected as well though indirectly as it is a private golf course.
R across the golf course on the public footpath and cycle route
The footpath is well shielded from errant golf balls. The golf course was landscaped in 1898 and was improved by celebrity course architect Harry Colt in 1940 because of the disruption caused by motorway construction at the edge of the property. It is now one of the more reputed courses in London. You don’t see much of the golf course actually because of the nice mature hedges but you do get a view when you cross the river Brent.
Ahead past the church into Old Church Lane
St Mary’s Perivale is a medieval church with some features from the 15th century. It was partly rebuilt in Victorian times and deconsecrated in 1972 as it was in an inconvenient location for parishioners. To some extent, it was essentially the private church of the local manor. It is now used for artistic performances, particularly concerts. Because of its present use, you usually cannot have a look inside.
Ahead across the motorway using the footbridge
From the footbridge, you overlook very contrasted buildings on the southern side of the motorway. On the central London (right-hand) side, you have a hotel and pub that do look very different than what you expect from a motorway motel. My picture taken several years ago shows a more interesting style than recent ones. The greenery and the colour contrast were very nice.
On the outer London (left-hand) side, you have an aluminum carriage converted into a diner. The owner clearly played the card of 1950s nostalgia and Hollywood teenager films. This being said, aluminum was the epitome of modernity in the 1930s. It was used for seriously prestigious purposes like important corporate buildings or fast long-distance trains.
The Underground station will be on Horsenden Lane South as a clear blue signpost says.
After a few yards along this road, you reach Dawlish Avenue. I suggest a detour R to the end of this road. You can come back afterwards and walk the short missing link to the station.
The detour is advisable despite the somewhat dreary terraces along Dawlish Road because it leads to one of the most impressive commercial Art Déco buildings in London, the former Hoover factory and headquarters. The buildings are deservedly listed and have been preserved through conversion to modern use. The office building is now divided into luxury flats and the factory was converted somewhat less sympathetically to a supermarket.
Walking around the two buildings, you will recognise easily typical Art Déco features including the use of whitewashed concrete, the huge glass surface (particularly on the front along the motorway), the interplay of vertical and horizontal lines and the one-off lettering. On commercial buildings, it was less usual to use decorative reliefs because they would get too dirty, but colour schemes using contrasts and pastel colours were popular and the Hoover building fits perfectly with oxblood red and mint green. This might remind you of American or New Zealand Art Déco.
The architects also resorted to typical ornaments from the 1930s such as sunburst rays, particularly impressive above the supermarket entrance porch. There is a taller version of it above the former central entrance of the office building, but it is less conspicuous seen from the road. The small towers either side of the supermarket porch are less usual in Britain, they may refer to Florida and California Art Déco where motives from the spanish colonial period were very fashionable.
I also give you details of the canopy that links the parking spaces with the supermarket. The pillars and the lights are typical of the style.
When you walk back towards Dawlish Road, you walk past a separate Art Déco building that is also worth a look. It is the former office building and the two narrower fronts are very good examples of English Art Déco with a protruding central column clearly reminiscent of the prow of a ship, a very popular design when everyone had fantasies of taking a steamship to the colonies. Also typical is the use of rounded shapes to soften the horizontal lines as the vertical lines are less conspicuous in this elongated building.
On the other side of Bideford Avenue, the building on the corner with the motorway is a much more modest structure as it was a shopping parade. It does have a hint of Art Déco with the decorative pineapples above the windows. Otherwise, it does not use the (expensive) band of windows all around and it also makes no pretence of using such a modern material like concrete. The stone joinery actually reminds me a little of some Underground stations (Farringdon for example).
When you come back to Horsenden Lane South, walk north away from the motorway.
You walk along sizeable Ealing Central Sports Grounds, a facility operated by the borough. It has a very impressive central pavilion I suspect was originally a local mansion. The name of the sports fields is completely inappropriate as it is difficult to be less central than here when thinking of Ealing.
There was a station on the train line here as early as 1903, converted to an Underground station in 1947.
The station building is quite imposing but less so than what the architect had in mind. The design was originally done in 1938 and this explains the beautiful Art Déco shapes. It may remind you of stations built on the Piccadilly Line in the late 1930s although the architect was the one working for the railway company rather than the one working for the Underground.
He used a similar scheme with reddish bricks, a sweeping geometric shape and very large glass panels aiming to let daylight enter the building as this was seen as healthier apart from being cheaper than artificial lighting. The original design was reviewed and pared down in 1947 for cost reasons so that the station does not include a tower that would have made it even more similar to Piccadilly Line stations like Osterley. The building is still deservedly listed.
Continue up Horsenden Lane South until you reach a bridge over a canal. Go down to the towpath before crossing the canal.
Before reaching the bridge, you walk past a local recreation ground quaintly named Horsenden Lower Thrifts Field. It has a rather nice playground built mostly of wood, which is in line with the local landscape.
The road bridge itself has a nice shape seen from the canal towpath. The humpback shape clearly shows that it is quite old, from a time when steel girders had not yet been invented and when you needed an arch to lead the weight gently to the bridge pillars.
L on the canal towpath until you reach a footbridge
The canal runs between large green spaces. The northern bank is part of Horsenden Hill, a very sizeable set of open spaces. Most is not open to the public because of golf courses but the section you are walking along is. There is an opening through the trees at one spot enabling you to look towards the summit of the hill. It is indeed quite high, rising up to an exciting 85 m above sea level.
The canal is the suburban section of the Grand Union Canal (Paddington Branch). The main canal linked the industrial Midlands with the export harbour in London via Brentford and was opened in stages around 1800. It was obvious that a canal arm linking the Midlands with the expanding industrial areas around Paddington and Acton was sensible and it is the section you walk along. Except for Paddington itself, the canal ran through very rural areas at the time and this is the feeling you actually still have nowadays in this particular section.
The footbridge you reach next indeed links two nature reserves. The footbridge itself is not uninteresting as it is wooden. Obviously, wood beams are not available in the necessary length and the structure used to stabilise the wooden arch is very elegant. You can note how the wood is curved, which is obviously not natural (it is achieved by forcing it into a curve under damp). By being anchored at both ends, it tenses upwards and ensures that the actual bridge is well supported.
L on the footpath across Paradise Fields Nature Reserve (do not cross the canal)
From the end of the cycle path, you can see the tracks on a viaduct.
Follow the cycle path towards the viaduct along the main road (Greenford Road). It uses a convenient subway under a first road and runs along a strip of greenery at the back of a shopping centre.
When you reach a set of lights shortly before the train bridge
R Rockware Avenue
At the end of the road, the station is on a short detour L taking the underpass
The station opened originally as a train junction in 1904 enabling travellers to take trains to Acton, to Ruislip or to Ealing. Trains could also run on a loop between Greenford, Acton and Ealing in order to offer a more convenient interchange for a large exhibition held in the Park Royal area. The Ealing line is still operated as a minor suburban train line while the more important train line between Acton and Ruislip was converted to the present Underground Central line in 1947.
The station building was designed by the same architects than in Perivale at the same time but the result is less convincing. Because the viaduct towers quite high above the station entrance, the architect just clad a pillar of the viaduct with bricks in order to integrate the look better with that of the station. As a result, it is not a tower than aims at making a statement. In addition, he chose to mix a bit of Art Déco brickwork from the original 1938 design with a plain post-War concrete box and the result is not very exciting.
R (assuming you did not cross under the tracks) into Oldfield Lane North. There is no road sign but there is a blue cycling sign saying “South Harrow”.
When you reach the canal again, L on the canal towpath
This is the same canal you walked along earlier, you just left it for the detour to the station. But it has a very different aspect by now, being lined in most places by industrial premises. This is actually the way most of the canal looked like for most of the 20th century. I happened to be there on a rather unusual occasion when the canal was frozen solid (look at the photographer squatting on the ice) and I am quite happy about it as it made the landscape more interesting.
The towpath crosses under the tracks, turns slowly L and passes a mosque
The mosque was a flagship project for the Muslim community and was completed as recently as 2010. It is quite interesting in terms of architecture. Typical London residents might not be well informed about the different architectural traditions for mosques. I’ll try to comment but please feel free to correct my mistakes as I am not a specialist either. This particular mosque clearly does not look ottoman (it has no dome and no pencil-like minarets), nor traditional arabic (it does not remind of a castle in the desert with towers on the corners), nor mughal (little outside decoration), nor iranian (no use of glazed tiles). It is inspired by Northern African tradition, particularly where the tower is concerned. The shape slightly reminiscent of a large town building and the earthen colour of the walls are also quite traditional for mosques in large cities in the Maghreb.
At the following footbridge R across the canal
The Egyptian (Fatimid) influence is more clear when you reach the main entrance porch. The arch has a pointed shape reminiscent of a reverted ship’s keel, the idea for which was more logical in Egypt than it might have been in Syria or Arabia. Large-sized inscriptions on the main porch are also more commonly found in Egypt.
Ahead into Belvue Park, climb towards the church
The grounds for the park were bought by the borough in 1936 in order to prevent development on the hilltop too close to the historical parish church. In addition, the purchase protected the site of the medieval manor of Northolt, recognisable by the set of former moats and a number of ground features. This proved prescient as excavations undertaken by archaelogists in the 1960s yielded evidence of a Saxon settlement, of which there are few in London. The park itself is a plain open space but there are interesting interpretation panels about the history of the manor.
The parish church is pretty much at the top of the hill but has no high tower and would be lower than the manor tower. This was understood until the 13th century as a sign that the church had been founded by the lord of the manor and that he had rights about who could be named as the local vicar (the “advowson right”). In medieval times, this was a very important right as you would want the local priest not to excite the parishioners against the local lord – you might also want to ensure your third or fourth son a position as the local priest if you did not have enough land to share among all your sons. You may understand that the Church did not like this right very much and managed to replace it with other procedures in Europe by the 15th century. Not so in England where some manor lords still insisted on making use of their advowson right until the early 19th century.
The church has parts from the 13th century but is a mix of parts added over the centuries and it is usually closed.
Walk past the church and down the hill
This part of Belvue Park along the small brook is closer to the centre of the suburb and features a few pleasant flower beds. It is actually a rather good display for what feels like a half-rural location and the palm trees are among the most impressive I have seen in London parks.
R along the brook Ealing Road
Despite the serious name, this is a quiet road along the brook with rather nice bungalows overlooking the greenery. Taking into account the proximity of the Underground station, I would decidedly find the location quite agreeable.
When the road leaves the brook, continue on the road
You walk along the suburb green until you reach the local landmark, a clock tower. Many suburbs built one around 1900 on the occasion of the one or other Queen Victoria jubilee, but Northolt was still a small village at that time. The local authorities started to discuss some kind of local landmark when the population had risen significantly due to urban development and decided in 1938 that a clock tower would be the right thing. Some observers probably considered this as a bit backward, particularly with such a traditional design, but it is indeed a lovely local landmark.
The clock maker maximised profit by finding a second local authority willing to buy an exact copy of the clock (in Hanwell). There is no Art Déco influence here, what you do get is a lovely wind pane with a sailing ship. Exactly what you would expect from a suburb located high on a hill and which was better known for its aerodrome than for any harbour.
At the end R along the main road for
The station was originally a modest rural halt on the 1907 train line and was accordingly called modestly Northolt Halt. Later on, real estate development in the area induced a change to a grander “Northolt (for West End) Halt” but this was indeed cumbersome and was simplified to plain Northolt on the occasion of the conversion to the Central Line in 1947.
The station building is a rather plain box using post-War yellowish bricks. There are no signs that a design from 1938 might have been used as has been the case in Perivale and Greenford.