Blooms in a hedge
A church full of flowers
For a royal jubilee
Blooms in a hedge
A church full of flowers
For a royal jubilee
THE VICTORIA LINE began carrying passengers in late 1968 when I was 16 years old. I remember when this happened and how exciting it was. Recently a new railway line opened in London: the Elizabeth Line. Originally named ‘Crossrail’, it began carrying passengers several years after it was supposed to have been completed. It is supposed to convey people from east of London to well west of the city. However, what exists now (July 2022) is not exactly what I expected. In order to travel from, say, Shenfield, at the eastern end of the line to, say, Maidenhead, west of London, you need to change trains at Paddington. Currently one section of the new line runs east from Paddington, and the other runs west from that station. Unlike Queen Elizabeth’s long continuous reign, the line named to honour her has a discontinuity at Paddington.
A visitor from abroad wanted to experience the new line today, a Sunday. He was looking forward to seeing the new station platforms on the line that heads east from Paddington. Sadly the section that fruns east from Paddington does not operate on Sundays at the moment. So, we had to head west. The Elizabeth Line trains are new, but the train follows tracks that were laid down as far back as the 19th century. Apart from being over efficiently air-conditioned, the new trains are comfortable and run remarkably smoothly.
We travelled (on a train bound for Heathrow Terminal 5) to Hayes and Harlington station, and from there headed to Barra Hall Park in the old part of Hayes. There, we enjoyed a picnic before walking to the mediaeval parish church, St Mary the Virgin. We had visited it once before, but were completely unprepared for what we saw this time. The hedges lining the path leading to the south door of the church were decorated with bunches of cut flowers. A cardboard cut-out of Queen Elizabeth II greeted us at the door. The lovely church was filled with attractively arranged bouquets of flowers. Quite by chance, we had arrived whilst the church’s 57th annual Festival of Flowers was being celebrated. We were fortunate because we arrived on the 3rd of July, the last day of the festival. The festival’s theme was “A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth”. How appropriate to have travelled to it on the Elizabeth Line.
HAYES IN THE London Borough of Hillingdon is not on the itineraries of most tourists, although many of them fly over the area when landing at nearby Heathrow Airport. In addition to the venerable old (late mediaeval) parish church of St Mary, there is a lovely park and another church worth seeing in the area.
St Mary’s church stands at the northeast corner of Barra Hall Park, the grounds of Barra Hall. The park was opened to the public in 1923. Largely on level ground, it has lawns, flower beds, and plenty of old trees. There is a bandstand whose roof is supported by metal pillars with curly decorative features. Nearby, there is an open-air theatre whose stage is under four enormous rectangular metal plates, that act as shades. Each of them has been bent into a slight curve. Its auditorium consists of circular concrete steps, which can accommodate an audience of 180.
The Barra Hall, which stands within the park, was originally a manor house, once known as ‘Grove House’. In the late 18th century, it was home to Alderman Harvey Christian Combe (1752-1818), who became Lord Mayor of London in 1799. In 1871, it passed into the hands of Robert Reid, an auctioneer and surveyor. Reid claimed to be descended from the Reids of Barra. He enlarged and modified the building in various ways and renamed it Barra Hall in 1875. In 1924, the house became the Hayes and Harlington town hall. When Hayes became part of the Borough of Hillingdon, the Hall ceased being used as a town hall. In 2005, after renovation, the large house became used as a children’s centre. The building is Victorian in appearance with a mixture of neo-Jacobean and neo-gothic decorative features.
The Hall and its park are less than a mile north of the Lidl supermarket in the Botwell Green area of Hayes. Opposite the supermarket, stands the Roman Catholic church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This basilica-style church was designed by Burles, Newton, and Partners and completed in 1961. It has a tall brick bell tower. In front of its vast west window, there is a fine statue of the Virgin by Michael Clark. This window, along with those beneath the tall ceiling above the wide nave, fills the spacious church with light. The nave is flanked by north and south aisles beneath lower ceilings. The walls of these aisles contain attractive stained-glass, both abstract compositions and depictions of biblical scenes. These windows were designed by Goddard and Gibbs. High above the altar, hanging on the east wall of the chancel, there is a lovely painting of the Virgin and Child by Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988). At the east end of the north aisle, there is a painting of St Jude by Daniel O’Connell.
Before the church was built, the local congregation of the parish, which was created in 1912. worshipped in a chapel created in Botwell House, an early 19th century building, which still stands in the grounds of the church. Both this church and the much older one near Barra Hall Park provide welcome, peaceful oases, which allow one to temporarily escape from the bustle and stresses of modern life.
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.