Harrow & Wealdstone walk with c20society. Guide: John Goodier
Tempo: fast, approx. 5 miles in 3 hours. Notes: extensive, matched what we were told. [bold and italics are from the notes, errors are the guide’s]
We met at Harrow-on-the-Hill tube station at 10am for our walk of Harrow & Wealdstone led by John Goodier. There were approx. 20 of us on the tour, ranging from those regulars who had attended the previous walk to newbies like me. Our names were ticked off the list and we were given the “notes”. The Hammersmith and City line was closed over this weekend, so we were waiting for a few stragglers. Once everyone was there, John said, ‘let’s move to the other side of the station and then you will be able to hear what I am saying and we can begin the walk’. There were plenty of groups (schoolfriends, families) now forming on the tube station concourse so this was a good idea. We walked out of the ‘back’ entrance of the station, to a spot where people were dropped off for the station, there were plenty of trees at this exit and John pointed in the direction of Harrow School and explained how the station was built at the bottom of the hill away from the School. This was the same at Eton too. Harrow on the Hill Station: The original station opened into Lowlands Road to the south of the station. In 1938 the present station was built. Originally it was fairly symmetrical with opening in the Lowlands Road and College Road. In the eighties, a bus station was built adjacent to the station in College Road and shops and offices in dark red brick were added to the station entrance. We walked back through the station and out of the other side. There were shops and stalls selling fruit. On the main station concourse was a barbers. We stopped at the traffic lights and crossed the road. The bus station was on our left. We walked between two office blocks and a car park entrance and came to St George’s shopping centre. A group of Air Cadets were setting up to collect for poppy day. A representative from the American British Legion turned up on a Harley Davidson festooned in poppies. John began to tell us about the design of St George’s and how a shopping centre in Uxbridge had wanted to be called St George’s but was eventually called Chimes because this one opened first.
St George’s: St George’s opened in 1996. It has more upmarket shops than St Ann’s ad includes a cinema complex. It is worth looking in. It has a post-modernist feel and includes a repeated relief of St George and the Dragon. It houses Harrow’s main cinema – the Vue complex. We went inside. Some people took photographs, others joked about going shopping later. We looked at the vaulted ceiling, elaborate lighting and George and the Dragon reliefs. As we exited the shopping centre John pointed out the Royal Oak pub. He said we would come across quite a few pubs on this tour, but some were derelict. This one doesn’t serve particularly good beer. Royal Oak: A survivor from before the redesign of the St Ann’s Road. Probably dates from around 1900. It has recently reverted to it original name. The area behind it used to consist of small but interesting shops. We continued to walk up the main street and turned right into St Anne’s shopping centre. This would bring us out opposite the station. There was a sign saying ‘no photography’ but that didn’t stop a few of us taking pictures. There were some sales stalls selling massage equipment. “would you like a massage?” … no, I’m in the middle of a guided walk. St Anne’s Centre: This was opened in 1987. The building of the centre involved the demolition of much of St Ann’s and College Road. We will walk through the Centre back to College Road. Here we turned left and continued to walk past the Post Office and several shops selling foreign delicacies. College Road: Some parades of 1930s shops will remain towards the east end of the street. At the end of College Road we stopped to look up at the buildings above the shop fronts (one shop was for NY Style). Someone in the group began to talk about the Post Office in Harrow and the redevelopment of a site on College Road. This would have space for 80 cars, because most people would be on bikes. Here John also talked about Harrow Baptist Church: Moved here from the hill in 1906-8 from a site on the hill following the increase in people living in this area. Originally had a fine gothic building but this has been replaced by a church in an office block. The building is in red brick, and although not very interesting it does fit with the streetscape. John mentioned on several occasions that he saw the position of churches and cinemas as identifiers of population growth as they were usually on the fringes. We turned left at the corner and made our way down Station Road: NatWest Bank by Banister Fletcher and Sons of 1915 or 1914 (both dates are on the building). There are a few 1930 art deco frontages remaining. Iceland with the Open work above is on the site of the Coliseum Cinema. Greenhill parade on the corner of St Ann’s Road has display windows on the second floor. A feature that dates from the introduction of double decker buses. The oriel type is original but many have been replaced by large flat windows. Noticeable is the Time building with its black frontage. As we stood opposite the Time Building and John talked about it, telling us it used to be a dance hall, an older couple walked past and said to each other “so it used to be a dance hall”. Several of the group were interested in a monument of a young person skipping (?? – according to street view on google, the area must have been altered recently). We continued on down Station Road towards Debenhams on the left. Lyon Road: Some office block probably from the 1980s are being successfully converted in to flats with parking below. We could see the flats behind the shop fronts. John likened them to what they were doing in Croydon, but slightly less successful.
Debenhams: New or modernised building replacing Sopers which was a major retail outlet. Here John talked about going to this building to buy his school uniforms as a child. Victoria Hall: Original building from 1888 was replace in the 1963s with a new hall and shops. Not sure I saw this building. We carried on towards the church at the end of the street. The entrance looked like it had been boxed in by some shops with flats above. St John’s Church: The original church was built in 1866, soon after the mainline station was opened, which gives some indication of the growth of the area. By the 1900s it was too small and the current church opened in 1904. The architect was J S Alder. It was extended in 1925 by Alder and Turrill and the chancel and chapel were added in 1938 by Martin Travers who also desgined the fixtures and stained glass. The tower was never built. Worth looking at are the tympanum over the chancel arch and the two war memorials. There are many fixtures from the 1930s and later. We entered the church and a coffee morning was taking place, as well as a small jumble sale. We walked around the church and John pointed out the war memorials. One participant didn’t know what the tympanum (I confess I didn’t, but I looked at it anyway, so was pleased it was the same thing). We took some time walking around the church. I sat outside after a while with one of the other members. The group gathered around the bench we were sitting on and we moved on to the next site.
Across a busy junction, John pointed out Manor Parade: An extensive parade in Sheepcote Road on the site of the old manor house. John said this was a particularly good example of a parade in Harrow, although nothing like those you get elsewhere in London. This area is called Greenhill, not after a green hill, but the landowner. At the end of the parade of shops on the left is the Granada Cinema, as John explained: The cinema is now Gold’s Gym. The architect was J Owen Bond and it was built in 1937. The front is simple with black tiles (now painted over) Canopy and a large window in to the café. The interior is by Theodore Komisarjevski includes processional freases and open grill work the coffing of the ceiling above the stall and circle. The original chandeliers are present, as is the Wurlitzer Organ. A swimming pool has been constructed under the balcony, which has been restepped to take gym equipment. John had a framed example of the friezes and he showed us all outside the gym. He had bought it at a sale at his primary school. Apprarently the seller had said, who will buy these and John’s mum had said, John will. We all laughed. We looked at the poster for the gym on the outside. We hadn’t gained access to have a look around inside. However, some members of the group weren’t satisfied with this, so whilst others had started to walk on, some had gone inside to ask if we could take a look around. After a few moments we were invited in to take a look. The receptionist said, ‘no photography’. We went inside and it was impressive. They had retained many of the original features and John explained they continued to have organ recitals, although I didn’t know where the audience would sit, perhaps on an exercise bike? The people working out in the gym looked at us quizzically. So did the staff who were there to chaperone us. What are they doing here? They want to look at the building apparently. I wondered if they knew the significance of this building or whether it had become everyday to them? We left the gym and turned right walking past a parade of shops and along Greenhill Way towards another cinema. Parades of Shops: This stretch of the route is marked by parades of originally small shops. The set to the east is particularly long and has variety in the facades. Greenhill Way: This is part of the major redevelopment of Harrow. It keeps alive the name Greenhill as the area is now referred to as central Harrow. It provides a chance to see some of the gable fronted houses that stretch from here to Pinner. Broadway Cinema on the other side of the road. This opened in 1910 and was closed by 1944. It stood near the junction with Hines Road, a major route before the construction of Greenhill Way, Since demolished. This part of the walk was along a busy main road. People mostly chatted in small groups. John remained at the front of the group. A transitional area: This stretch of the walk marks the transition from Greenhill/Central Harrow into Wealdstone. Small shops line the west side and large houses the east side (many of which are now in business use). Wikes House is a good if rather bulky modern building the building opposite the social club is a better design.
We approached the Dominion Cinema: Built by Frederick E Brombridge for W C Dawes and A Bacal who were independent distrubtors, it was soon take over by the ABC. The highly original frontage includes alcoves, curved windows and the name in a highly idiosyncratic font on the back lit from a recess. The interior was not that spectacular but the concealed ceiling lighting was effective. In 1962 it was renamed the ABC and the front covered in the steel cladding. Later it became a Cannon Cinema. In 1995 it returned to independent management and renames Safari. It shows Asian films. The front age is intact behind the cladding. There is a good case to remove the cladding and list the building. This building was fascinating. We stood on the opposite side of the road from it as John revealed the hidden frontage through a photocopied image of the front. We all stood aghast at how horrible the current steel covering was. There was talk about the cost of upkeep, possibilities of vandalism. But we all agreed it was a stunning looking building behind the steel. One member ran across the busy road and attempted to open the cinema doors to take a look inside. It was shut. The other side of the entrance is for Gala Bingo. We continued to walk along the main road, until we came to Harrow Central Mosque and Masood Islamic Centre: The new mosque is still under construction, and proceeds as funding is available. When complete it will have prayer halls, meeting rooms, library, mortuary, IT centre, a commercial kitchen and retail units. The architects are PA Architects, and Harshad C Patel is the lead architect. Down the road to the left of the Mosque is the old Magistrate’s Court: Designed by W T Curtis, Middlesex County Arhcitectus Department in 1931-4. Like many Court Houses it is now out of use.
We turned around and walked towards the Civic Centre and Library. It was a vast campus like site, with carparks located between the buildings and the main road. There was a pink limousine and people gathering for a wedding. This dates from 1972 and is by Eric Broughton and the Borough Architects. The Council Chamber is in a separate block linked by a walkway. There are several smaller blocks on the site one of which is the library. There is a water feature and some other planting. There are several commemorative sculptures on the site. We walked around the corner of the building holding the Council Chamber and towards the library. The Library also had a water feature in front of it, but it contained stagnant water. There were builders making repairs to the carpark tarmac. It was noisy. We entered the Library to take a look around. We walked up the central staircase and then there was a large rectangular space with racks of books, magazines, lots of desks and people using the computers. The ceiling was concrete. We slowly made our way out of the building and back towards the main road, specifically Wealdstone Social Club: 1930s art deco building. It looked more like an ordinary house to me. I need to do some further investigation into this period. We carried on along the main road, crossing the railway line that heads into Euston.
We came to the Wealdstone Time Line and Memorial: The work of local youth organisations. It includes a memorial for those killed in the rail crash of 8 October 1952. What was fascinating about the time line was the use of 20th century buildings to mark significant moments in the town’s history – the cinema, the civic centre… We sheltered from the wind for a moment outside Harrow and Wealdstone Station: Opened in 1837 for the London and Birmingham Railway was a small Italianate station building in pale yellow brick to the West of the track, still described as the exit for Harrow. The entrance on to Wealdstone is by Gerald Horsley (1911) for the London and North Western Railway, whose initials are still shown. It is a dramatic building for a restricted site. The buildings opposite date from around 1900 and indicate a potential for Wealdstone to become a centre in its own right. We walked along the main street with shops on it and passed a derelict pub. Case is altered: a good 1930s pub that has been closed for many years. You will have noticed several closed pubs along the walk. It seems that pubs have been over provided for current needs. Here we deviated from the original walk plan in order to make it to the Holy Trinity Church before it closed at 12 noon. The original building by Roumieu & Aitchison dates from 1881 but the building was not completed until 1904. In 1967 the old hall was replaced by a parade of shops with extensive hall spaces above [although John suggested we might not want to visit these, unless the church wardens wanted us to see them]. This was by A J Watkins who also provided an entrance to the church and the first story halls. In 1977 the church was reordered. The original chancel became a separate space for informal activity. The original glass remains. The nave was converted into a worship area and the altar on the south side. The space is flexible and can be used for parties and meetings. The DDA compliant ramp is recent. The window behind the altar of the angel appearing to Isaiah is very good arts and crafts design from 1917. There are two war memorial windows. There was a coffee morning going on in the entrance to the church, several people wondered what we were doing there, “we’re from The Twentieth Century Society?” “You won’t find much 20th century stuff here, more like 19th century”. Our guide explained a bit of the additional history. Most members took this as an opportunity to sit down and enjoy the church from a seated position. Others took photographs. As we left one person asked where the font was. As we left we crossed the road (Wealdstone Centre: Council offices and Library in a bulky building; Lloyds Bank: Built in 1907 by Horace Field & Simmonds. It is a good building in Baroque style. Note the bees and bee hive) and began to make our way the Leisure Centre. We walked along Masons Avenue: This road contains two chapels. One dated 1928. Neither of much merit but they show how various amenities were provided. The housing is typical of the area. John pointed out that the area is still industrial. Although Kodak has gone, Winsor and Newton (paint) are still here. We also walked along Bryon Road and Oxford Road: Buildings of note are the Fish and Chip Shop and Harrow East Labour Party in an Art Deco Buidling. This are is a pocket of industry. A feature fast vanishing from suburban London. We continued apace here. We turned a corner and came to the Leisure Centre: Dating from 1975 and designed by the Borough’s Architect’s Department. Basically it is a large box containing a swimming pool and games courts. The glazed entrance stands out giving some interest to the building. There are further large shed like building behind. Adjacent to the leisure centre, John points out a special needs school.
As we walked across the entrance to the leisure centre and out the other side, John said, “and now to see a first I think for the Society, a skate park.” We crossed the carpark and entered into an fenced off area with lots of pits and boys on bikes.
Harrow Skate Park: This is one of the few remaining seventies skate parks. IT was designed by Adrian Rolt of G-Force and built by Skate Park Construction. The pool is based on the keyhole pool at Skateboard Haven in Spring Valley California. The feature pit is also notable. Various half pipe constructions have been added. Originally built as a commercial enterprise with a requirement, by the Council, that is be removed if the company ceased to want it. With the development of more free skate parks and the use of space like the South Bank it became commercially unviable. The Council agreed to take it over and open it for free. The ticket office and shop remain closed. In recent times there has been a threat of closure but in 2003 it was refurbished at a cost of £60,000. In 2008 there were plans to demolish the skate park and leisure centre but these plans have now been withdrawn. Given the national importance of this skate park and its international following this could/should be a candidate for listing. It is well used by skate board, mountain bike, roller skaters and scooter riders. This site was my highlight of the walk. It was such an off the wall example of 20th century design and challenged the conceptions of what actually constituted architecture and indeed who and what could be included. Here a site of international significance was uncovered and had clearly captured the imaginations of both the skate boarders and the walk participants. Involvement in the listing of this building could bring a variety of constituencies together as well as widen the audience and membership of the c20society. We made our way back to the centre of Wealdstone the way we came. Here we lost the front end of the group. They had walked on ahead. Several people had decided to head home from here. We ran to catch up with John. We looked at the Police Station: Built in 1905 in a Tudor brick style to designs by J Dixon Butler. Someone said that the other half of the building had been the library. As we stood waiting for some traffic lights to change, John pointed out Some art deco shop fronts: Carousel, Tesco and Carpet and Furniture. Recent shop fronts with good detail above [it was at this point that one of my fellow walkers said to me: “If The Society does one thing, it teaches you to look up”]. Around about here was the Coronet cinema. It opened in 1910 and closed in 1930 when the talkies came in. The Methodist Chapel of 1904 is visible in Locket Road. We continued to walk up the High Street passed Wealdstone Baptist Church: In red terracotta by John Wills & Son form 1905. A distinctive landmark. On the right is the War Memorial: Dedicated by Field marshal the Lord W E Ironside on 11 November 1923. The architect was Harold F Walker and the builder J C Rackham. The memorial was damaged on 23 August 1940, and repaired towards the end of the war. It was restored in 1970 and is listed Grade II. At the time, we passed it without much comment. We then passed Marlborough House: Seventies office block with brutalist entrance and stair block. This on the site of the Odeon Cinema which opened in 1934 was designed by Arthur Percival Starkey with Frederick Adkins. It was in the art deco style. It closed in 1961 and was demolished in 1970 and replaced by the current building.
Followed by the Herga Cinema: Built in an art modern style (architect unknown). Opened 1939 and closed in 1951. It became a meeting hall and then a snooker club. It is now retail. (Note industry down the side street. It is west from here the main industrial area was). We arrived at the final sites of our tour (there were probably 10 of the original 20 or so in the group). Salvatorian College: The school has been built in stages since 1931. The design is completed by the entrance and assembly hall by John A Strubbe. This was the science college for boys and the language college on the other side of the road was for girls. Boys were counted in and out and the nuns waited at the gate to ensure the girls returned to school. Next to the College is St Joseph’s Church: Roman Catholic Church from 1931 by Adrian G Scott. A simple clean design with a hint of the traditional. The figure on the front is by Peter Watts and dates from 1952. The interior is also simple and clean. There were several people praying in the church so we looked around individually. We then gathered outside the church and gave John, our guide, a round of applause.
Conclusion: Greenhill provides a major shopping area that continues to expand. The developments from the thirties are being lost. Wealdstone stated to develop in its own right with the arrival of the railway. Part of that development was industrial. Wealdstone is now more or less part of Harrow, but compliments it by providing small food shops. Both areas contain some buildings of merit and others of historical interest. There are two structures, the Dominion Cinema and the Skate Park that deserve consideration for listing.