diamond geezer

 Monday, October 13, 2008

Random borough (19): Harrow (part 2)

"Harrow really does have it all, whether you're looking for fun things to do, days out for the family or a superb venue for corporate events." So it says on the council's tourist website. I beg to differ. Once I'd checked out the historic school, Harrow wasn't especially overflowing with thrilling places to visit. Several of the better options weren't open, or required advance booking, or weren't that exciting anyway. But, with just one day to fill, I coped just fine.

Somewhere historic: Headstone Manor
Headstone ManorI wonder how many of Harrow's residents realise that their borough has a museum. It's not especially easy to find, hidden away in a little-known suburb in the middle of a recreation ground, and you wouldn't walk past it by mistake. But there's a reason why the museum's here, because it's housed in a suite of the borough's very oldest buildings. Headstone Manor dates back to the early 14th century and is the only scheduled ancient monument in Middlesex still to have a water-filled moat. Yes, really. Before Saturday I never realised it was here either.

That's Headstone Manor, the old-looking house with the sharp-sided chimneypots almost visible across the water [photo]. It's hard to reach at the moment, with both moat and bridge screened off behind a blue metal wall while lengthy renovation work is being completed. The museum has been running tours of the Manor every weekend during the summer should you want to get closer, but only if you're around at 3pm (and I wasn't). Instead I had to make do with a printed history posted up in the small barn nextdoor. The manor's main claim to fame is that Henry VIII owned it. Having read the smallprint, however, it turns out that he only owned it for six days before selling it on, making a profit of £7337 8s 8d. Not a great claim to fame, but it'll have to do.

Harrow MuseumThe museum proper is housed in the Manor's 500 year-old Tithe Barn [photo]. To be honest, I found the timber framed building considerably more interesting than its contents. Up at one end of the long room was a rather flat exhibition about Tudor life in the borough, which could have been an exhibition about Tudor life anywhere in England (highlight - "Unfortunately there is no evidence to prove that any of the Tudor monarchs visited Harrow."). Further down the barn was a bit of a shop, and a few chairs, and not many exhibits. Plus a man in a kitchen serving up drinks to all the kids and parents frequenting the football pitches nextdoor, whose weekly league action probably keeps the museum's finances afloat.

The one remaining building on site was the Granary, shifted here from a farm elsewhere in the borough, and now housing some old farming equipment. You can just imagine school trips trooping in here during the week for a bit of hands on agricultural history and a chance to learn what great gran's kitchen used to look like. Upstairs were some less child-friendly exhibits remembering important local businesses, such as London's premier Kodak factory (which lingers on just down the road) and the Whitefriars Glass Factory (now departed). Nothing here (or anywhere on site) detained me for long, but I'm genuinely sorry to have missed the tour round the manor.
by train: Headstone Lane  by bus: H9, H10, H18, H19


Somewhere famous: Heath Robinson's house
plaque at 75 Moss LaneOne of the most celebrated proponents of the art of mechanical whimsy was W. Heath Robinson. He started out as a book illustrator, before progressing into the design of ludicrous yet intricate contraptions for carrying out everyday or slightly surreal tasks. His talented penmanship lovingly conveyed machines for such unlikely tasks as brolly-testing, indoor mountain climbing and even "resuscitating stale railway scones". Robinson moved from Holloway to Pinner in 1908, and his detached house at number 75 Moss Lane [photo] now displays a blue plaque in his honour. Moss Lane is a delightful suburban avenue, very Metroland, very aspirational, although I saw no sign of any automated lawn sprinklers or steam powered grass-mowing devices in any of the gardens.

West House, PinnerThe William Heath Robinson Trust hold many of his humorous artworks, and plan to showcase them in a new museum at West House in Pinner Memorial Gardens [photo]. But the old mansion requires considerable restoration, at great cost, and completion remains some years off. For now West House remains only partly rebuilt behind graffitied barriers and, to my eyes, appears disconcertingly modern looking. The Pinner Association continues to campaign and fund raise for its completion, and will hopefully provide the town with its first steampunk tourist attraction.
by tube: Pinner  by bus: 183, H11, H12, H13

see also:
Mrs Beeton's House: Britain's first celebrity chef spent the first five years of her married life at number 2 Chandos Villas in Hatch End. Here she plagiarised recipes for publication in her publisher husband's magazine, and these articles were later compiled into the famous Book Of Household Management. Alas poor Isabella died young, from puerperal fever, at the tender age of only 28. Her house in the Uxbridge Road survived until 1940 when it was destroyed in an air raid, and the site is now home to Hatchets restaurant [photo]. Given that bangers and mash here will set diners back £12.50, I doubt they're still using Isabella's recipes.
Elton John's House: That's 55 Pinner Hill Road where a musical boy called Reg Dwight grew up. For some inexplicable reason a two-year-old photograph of this desperately ordinary semi is my second most viewed photograph on Flickr.


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