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.