Before suburbia encroached, most of northwest Middlesex was a land of fields and villages. Scattered across this land were several manor houses, one of which was Headstone Manor (in North Harrow, which I blogged about earlier this month). On the Uxbridge branch there are three more, close to three consecutive stations. Strangely, the first of those isn't Ruislip Manor. Let's all go on an urban safari.
Ruislip (Manor) At the top of Ruislip High Street, that's the opposite end to the station, is a nucleus of proper picturesque old stuff. This was the medieval core of the original village, complete with St Martin's Church (plus lych-gates), a 17th century pub (now a Cafe Rouge) and plenty of other attractive buildings (if you can ignore the mini-roundabout). Cross the road to the north and you enter Manor Farm, which by rights ought to have been wiped out by house-building in the 1930s, but its heart was saved by Middlesex County Council. One of the buildings rescued was 16th century Manor Farm House, which remains open (at selected times) as a local museum [photo]. There are only two rooms to view, but the displays are very good and bring the history of this patch of land firmly to life. One very rare survivor is a fragment of 300 year-old wallpaper in the entrance hall, complete with elephant, snake and other supposed jungle activity. One of the lawns outside is all that's left of Ruislip Castle (I bet you never knew it had one), with the outer wall of this motte and bailey still pretty much discernible. The most impressive building here is the GreatBarn, the oldest timber barn in London and second in size only to the tithe barn in Harmondsworth. Time your visit for the first Sunday in the month and a Farmers Market should be underway inside, one of the best I've seen, with a range of proper diverse and tempting produce. There's pies, quiche, handicrafts and jam, and sausages in a roll for less than three quid, plus pony rides and a bouncy castle for the littluns. Come any time other than the first Sunday in the month and the queue at the cafe in the Cow Byre might be reasonable. Ruislip's library is located here - this opened in the Little Barn in 1937 - while hidden round the back of the site shielded by trees is the Winston Churchill Hall, a rather more modern theatre. I visited on a rare sunny day, and loved the carpet of buttercups across the edge of Pinn Meadows leading down to a trickle of river [photo]. It's thumbs-up for Ruislip. Ruislip station: When the Uxbridge extension opened in 1904, this was the only intermediate stop on the line. It still looks like an Edwardian branch line station, with lattice footbridge, white wooden canopy and pitched-roof ticket hall. Waiting here is no visual hardship. [photo]
Ickenham (Manor) It's not the old building by the station, beside the Compass Theatre. That's Ickenham Hall, which is a completely different beast and is merely 18th century. Themanor is four centuries older, and has been owned since time immemorial by the Shorediche family. They still live in the L-shaped manor, having bought the higgledy building back from other tenants in 1961. You'll only get inside for Open House these days, but I did at least want to admire the exterior so grabbed my Ordnance Survey map to track the place down. The Manor lurks in meadowland just beyond the border of Ickenham's suburbia, where I hoped there'd be sight between the houses, but I hoped wrong. A footpath led off from Burnham Avenue which promptly entered a very damp field shared by horses. Again, no view, just a struggle to find the far exit up the side of the railway bridge. I emerged onto a back lane, most suspiciously, where a passing shaven-headed dad stopped his car and peered at me like I was molestation personified. I had been planning to walk down to the Manor, but that way too lies Ickenham Youth FC so I thought better of it. Mission fail. Ickenham station: Not every station in Metroland is lovely. The open platforms look like they might be, until you turn to see the 1970s station building perched on the road above. This timber-banded white cuboid resembles a youth club HQ, and a minor one at that, entirely untouched by the hand of Holden.
Much more interesting, and unexpected, and accessible, is Pynchester Moat on the northern outskirts of Ickenham. This is a defensive Tudor structure, square in shape, located in a bend on the River Pinn. You turn up a path in the heart of a housing estate and there it is, harder to spot in summer than winter, a low earthwork overtaken by trees [photo]. The only hint this isn't natural are the regular right-angled corners to the water channel, and of course the strategically-placed information board revealing all. It's amazing the banks haven't eroded away by now, but the path has been re-engineered to keep all but the most curious away. I walked around the perimeter twice, without human interruption, before stepping carefully across the tiny causeway to the central island. The ideal place to smoke fags and drink cheap lager, I suspect... the double life of a suburban scheduled ancient monument.
Hillingdon (Manor) The manor in Hillingdon has a special name, and that's Swakeleys. The station's even named Hillingdon (Swakeleys) on its platform roundels, such is the historical draw of this old house. Again it's entirely surrounded by housing estate, but on this occasion it's held its own with a buffer of perfectly-mown lawn. Swakeleys is a Jacobean mansion, one of the finest in the country, not that you'd know from the minimal amount of publicity it gets. The house was built in the 1630s, in ostentatious show-off brick, with an upper ring of Dutch gables surrounding various clustered chimneys. Public access used to be available semi-regularly but that's been chopped to "Open House only" because the owners would rather hire out the space as offices than welcome commoners in. If you want to look inside I can recommend this excellent virtual tour, one of the best I've ever used, which allows you to spy on the Great Hall and the lofty painted staircase. Admiring the front of the house is possible without resorting to the virtual if you head for Swakeleys Park. Enter via The Avenue and take the minor path round the back of the ornamental lake past the bowling green. Suddenly the vista opens out and there's the mansion on the far side [photo], across a lawn that once hosted the All England Croquet Championships. I doubt they appreciate onlookers when the office staff are in, or when a film company's round... but one of the finest houses in Middlesex, I think yes. Hillingdon station: The original station was demolished in the 1990s when the A40 was rerouted in deep cutting. The new station perches on top in an all-white steel framed structure, a bit like a garden centre greenhouse. The design won Underground Station Of The Year in 1992, but the years have not been kind and the paint on the metalwork is peeling unappealingly. Relocation also shifted the station further away from the main road, accessed only via a long curving metal footbridge. I quite liked the footbridge, if nothing else. [photo][photo]