Saturday, 2 October 2010

Local Surprises

We normally take the northbound E2 bus from Northfields to what is locally known as Ealing Broadway. This is the closest main shopping area to us and it's also location of the town hall and borough council offices. The bus drives up Northfield Avenue to Uxbridge Road, Ealing's main thoroughfare that eventually ends in Uxbridge at the absolute western edge of London. For a few blocks the street is called Broadway. I don't know why. This lovely Anglican church, Christ the Saviour, is on this street and represents itself as the parish church of a major outer London shopping district, Ealing Broadway

Inside this building houses is main the mall of the area, the Ealing Broadway Shopping Centre. There is also several stories of parking garage inside. The mall has about 80 stores, including a major supermarket (Tesco), barber shops and hair salons, the main Ealing library, bargain stores, a couple of cell phone outlets, clothing stores, a sporting goods shop, a good bookstore, a couple of restaurants, a major department store (Mark & Spencer). The area around the shopping center is filled with shops and ethnic restaurants. One day I'll do a post of just the different ethnic restaurants in the area.
This is one of several side streets off Broadway that is also filled with shops. Don't be fooled by what seems to be a lack of shoppers and autos. The reality is that whenever we've gone to Ealing Broadway the streets are full of people and  crammed with cars. On Saturdays the sidewalks are absolutely packed with people. Even though this is in the outer parts of London, it is still very much an urban environment. The street we live on is very quiet, but a constant hum of activity pervades all the main avenues.
 One of the wonderful characteristics of living in London is that one never knows what one will encounter around the next corner. One day after completing an errand with the Ealing Council I barely missed the E2 bus. Instead waiting about ten minutes for the next bus I decided to walk home. But I didn't take the same route I was familiar with from taking the bus. Instead I went another way, thinking it might be shorter. A couple of blocks from Ealing Broadway I Ealing Green behind which stood some kind of building I didn't have time to invstigate.

I also passed this building, the offices of a movie studio. Since I grew up in the long shadow cast by Hollywood in California, this instantly aroused my interest. In turns out that Ealing Studios has been making movies for over a 100 years. During the forties and fifties in made a string of popular comedies, the one known best by American audiences perhaps being The Lavender Hill Mob, starring Alec Guiness well before his Star Wars days.

Last Saturday morning, a week ago today, we found the best football venue for Benedict to practice his skills and get some coaching within a relatively short bus ride from our house. Well, actually we have to take two buses. It's a new private facility with ten small football pitches for what folks call 5-a-side games. We've seen several such pitches in local parks busy with active adult players, so the 5 v. 5 game seems to be popular. There are fewer boys at the trainings and the competition is less cutthroat, perfect for keeping Benedict's skills in football condition.

Later the same day, a chilly and blustery afternoon, we got on the E2 bus again, the bus this time taking us south away from Broadway Ealing. We see on the map (after clicking this link, click on one of the map icons in the right column) that there is a very large park, Gunnersbury, not too far from us. We went to the park as much to satisfy our curiosity as to do something active for the day. Knowing nothing of the park or its history, we were surprised to find a couple of old seedy mansions, such as the one on the left, on the property. A museum, which we didn't visit this time, is in one of the mansions.

Sweeping lawns, groves of trees such as the small grove of gingko trees below, vast fields where athletes could play football, rugby, or cricket; a dozen or so tennis courts, some full of weed and lacking nets; an 18 hole pitch-and-putt golf course; a small pond with a pair of graceful swans
The gingko trees.
A shrine by the pond.

A small stone bridge.

A tree already changing colors on the golf course.

Benedict on the parapet about to repel would-be attackers.

Erika at the door of Princess Amelia's bath house.

The property that is now the park once belonged to the Bishop of London. In the 14th century. Much later, in the 18th century, it belonged to Princess Amelia, a daughter of King George II. She was briefly betrothed to the man who would later become King Frederic the Great of Prussia. She used the property primarily as a summer residence. After changing hands several times the estate fell into the hands of the Rothschilds family, the famous bankers, in the 19th century. It remained in their hands until 1925 when the Ealing Council purchased amidst some controversy. Some argued that the land could be better used for inexpensive housing, but the council leaders disagreed. Today the park is administered jointly by the Ealing and Hounslow Councils. Some of the parkland needs assistance, and what we saw of the buildings need investment in upkeep and repairs. Apparently public funds are hard to come by in this era of tightening budgets. But the park is such a gem. Many people wandered on the park's paths, some read books in the meadows, dogs froliced unleashed, a cricket match was underway, a couple of tennis courts felt the smack of balls on the asphalt, several football teams engaged in furious battles, the cafe served tea and coffee to the weary, and a playground was busy with toddlers running around.

The next day, Sunday, we discovered another gem. We were graced with a visit that afternoon from my niece, Jenny. She and her family live in Denver, but she is working in London temporarily.

We all went out for a walk after lunch, strolling through Lammas Park which has an entrance on Northfield Avenue. At the other end we crossed a road and entered Walpole Park. By the time we reached the other end of this park we were almost at Ealing Broadway. As it turns out, this is a quick route--about half an hour--on foot to the shopping area. Ealing Studios and Ealing, Hammersmith, & West London College back
up to the park, and Pitzhanger Manor-House, pictured
below, anchors a corner of the park. I discovered this on a later walk. But on that day we walked through the gardens behind the manor-house, including the vegetable garden. When we walked back to the house a cold rain began to fall, and we were quite soaked by the time we returned. We dried off enough to have dinner and make tentative plans to travel together to visit her parents and brothers in Bristol the end of October.

The architect John Soane purchased and rebuilt the in the early 19th century. What's interesting about this is that by coincidence Soane is buried in the St. Giles-in-the-Field church we visited with Professor Mike on Wednesday during the Victorian England walking tour.

The last surprise--for the time being--Benedict and I found on Monday when we took a break from school work. We took a long walk up to Uxbridge Road in West Ealing, and on our way on this road--crossing into Hanwell as we walked (which is still part of the borough of Ealing)--to Boston Manor Road we walked past a pair of crowded cemetaries across the street from one another. What I found interesting about these cemetaries, other than the very old and ornate tombstones, is that one apparently belongs to the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and the other belongs to the City of Westminster. (Westminster is a borough of London, but it is called a city for some reason. Perhaps because it's the seat of Britain's government and the Queen's main residence, Buckingham Palace, is within its borders.) These boroughs must have run out of burial space and acquired land in what was once the more sparsely populated Middlesex village of Hanwell.
These are some of the surprises we recently discovered about where we live.

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