THE GRAND UNION canal meets the River Thames at Brentford. From there, it runs towards the Midlands where it meets other waterways in England’s extensive network of canals, which was built for commerce, but is now used mainly for pleasure.
Six miles along the canal from Brentford, there is an important junction. Here at Bulls Bridge, the Paddington Arm branches off the main Grand Union canal. From beneath the bridge, the Arm runs 13 ½ miles to Paddington. Near its destination in central London, the arm flows through a large body of water, known as Little Venice. From there, two canals, the continuation of the Arm and the Regents Canal, link Little Venice to Paddington Basin and Limehouse Basin respectively.
The Paddington Arm was opened for use in 1801. The Bulls Bridge is a single-arch brick bridge spanning the Paddington Arm a few feet east of its junction with the Grand Union Canal. It stands amidst a dull landscape filled with industrial units and large supermarkets.
Following the towpath along the Grand Union Canal away from Bulls Bridge in a north-westerly direction for 177 yards, we reach a bridge that carries the canal over a narrow stream, the River Crane. a tributary of the River Thames. According to a website, touristlink.com, the course of the Crane is as follows:
“The River Crane is 8.5 miles (13.6 km) in length. Its source is taken to be a point south of North Hyde Road in Hayes, Hillingdon, from where its course is generally in a southerly, if near semi-circular, direction, before it joins the River Thames at Isleworth. Its name is a back-formation from Cranford, London. Formerly it was called the Cranford River. The River Crane creates the boundary between the London boroughs of Hillingdon and Hounslow.”
What could be seen from the bridge carrying the canal over the Crane was a deep weed-filled fissure in the depths of which there was a narrow stream. This lies in the shadow of an elevated road, the busy Parkway (A 312) that links both the A40 and the M4 with Heathrow Airport.
Continuing north-west along the Grand Union, the canal passes beneath a series of railway bridges that carry trains to and from Paddington Station. Nearby is Hayes and Harlington station, which stands in a part of Hayes, which was once the village of Botwell. This is now a shopping area with supplied with lavishly stocked fruit and vegetable shops and a branch of Lidl’s supermarket chain. Lidl’s faces a Roman Catholic Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary, built in 1961, which according to Pevsner, contains a painting by Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988). Near the station is a less attractive church, St Anselm, built between 1926 and 1928.
Even at the beginning of the 20th century, Hayes in Middlesex was a village north of Botwell and separated from it and other neighbouring settlements by open countryside. By 1940, Hayes had begun to be engulfed by London’s western spread. The village was, according to James Thorne, writing in 1876:
“… quiet and respectable, and chiefly dependent on the wealthy residents … consists of a few ordinary houses and shops.
Today, it is still quiet, the commercial district being in Hayes Town, the former Botwell, near the railway station.
There is one good reason to visit what was old Hayes. That is to see the parish church of St Mary the Virgin. It stands on the eastern side of Barra Hall Park, which are the grounds of the former manor house, now much modified. The church is mediaeval. Its lychgate is probably early 16th century. Its chancel is late 13th century, the tower and the north aisle are 15th century, and the main aisle is 16th century. The church has beautiful timber ceilings and a 12th century font. On the north wall there is a large wall painting of St Christopher carrying the Christ child. Pevsner did not consider this image was painted before about 1500.
The church is full of fine funerary monuments. These include elaborate memorials for Sir Walter Grene (1456); the judge of the King’s Bench Edward Fenner (died 1612); Roger Jenyns (died 1693) and members of his family; Richard Lugg (1697); and Thomas (died 1576) and Elizabeth Higate. There are plenty more monuments to be seen as well as several fine brasses. Fenner’s monument consists of an effigy of Fenner lying recumbent supporting his head on his right hand. This is framed by marbled pillars supporting an elaborate carved stone semi-circular canopy, which is flanked by a pair of sculpted figures.
Although Hayes is not high on most tourist’s lists of what to see in London, the old church parish church of Hayes is certainly worth a detour. As for Bulls Bridge, visiting it is only for dedicated enthusiasts of desolate landscapes and inland waterway history.