diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 18, 2013


The advance of suburbia across the fields of Metro-land is well exemplified by the area around Rayners Lane station. A halt opened here in 1906, seemingly pointless, as the only settlement nearby was a single farmstead on a country lane. This dirt track was called Bourne Lane, but the Metropolitan Railway decided instead to name the station after the owner of the farm, that's Mr Daniel Rayner. His farmhouse and fields are long gone, but that simple choice means his name lives on. It took more than 20 years for the housebuilders to move in, having initially thought the area too remote [aerial photo]. Eventually Metropolitan Railway Country Estates Ltd grasped its potential and bought up 187 acres of farmland with the intent of building hundreds of new homes. They called it Harrow Garden Village, and stuck up posters advertising this as "A Good Move".
21 minutes from Baker Street. Houses of varying type built by well-known builders available at popular prices. Liberal open spaces, tennis courts, etc. Excellent sites for houses and shop plots in commanding positions. Full particulars from H Gibson, General Offices, Baker St Station NW1. Cheap tickets from all Metro stations on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays to Rayners Lane (for Harrow Garden Village) adjoining estate.
It's intriguing seeing tennis courts used in that advert as an incentive to householders, alongside the none too subtle hint that there'd be no shops here when they arrived, only plots. Slowly the first avenues were driven through the fields and the early foundations laid [aerial photo], as a residential grid spread row by row across the valley [aerial photo]. Some of the roads were named after what they destroyed - Farm Avenue, Hawthorn Drive, Highfield Avenue - but mostly the area was recast anew. The developers even tried to change the name of the station to Harrow Garden Village, but the local council weren't having it so Rayners Lane (without an apostrophe) duly stuck.

In 1938 the village halt was upgraded to a proper Underground edifice. Charles Holden did the design, and came up with a monumental high brick ticket hall reminiscent of Sudbury Town down the Piccadilly line. Stripped windows on each face of the cuboid bring light within, and a low slung net keeps pigeons out of the loftier internal spaces. Two symmetrically placed roundels face the road outside, each perched on a curved kiosk sticking out horizontally. One now houses a bog standard minimart, the other a less ordinary shoe repair shop [photo]. It's an imposing composition, one you'd not immediately guess from down on the platforms, although these have a pleasing retro-symmetry all of their own [photo]. Grade II listed, the station makes a bold statement of modernity at the highest point on the high street. [photo]

Those "shop plots in commanding positions" now form a long parade, much longer than you'd think the area deserved. One recessed block has a brick tower, while almost all have narrow steps which lead up to a balcony of residential flats on top. But it's the former cinema which draws the eye, in a "what the hell is that?" kind of way. Builders T F Nash built this Art Deco monster to serve the new housing estate they were laying out to the south. A mix of convex and concave curves rise high above the canopy, with a bold concrete trunk scrolling down the centre, a bit like the neck of a violin. It must have felt like Hollywood had landed here in 1936 when the Grosvenor opened, and the interior didn't disappoint either. The golden age lasted precisely 50 years, after which a nightclub moved in. More recently the building was purchased and renovated by the Zoroastrian Trust, and now serves as a place of worship and their European headquarters. [photo]

And Rayners Lane itself still exists. It wiggles through the grid of avenues following its ancient line, along hedgerows and around fields long extinct. And it's very long, running a full mile to the south of the station and another mile to the north. I walked north, past Tudorbethan hairdressers and a selection of minor restaurants, to explore the homes of Harrow Garden Village. Unsurprisingly they're lovely, brought even more to life by the wealth of summer in bloom all around. Some, like The Croft, cluster in a long crescent round a central flowerbed. Others, like The Close, surround what might almost be a village green were it not a baseless fake. But most run in pairs down cosy avenues, spacious, well tended, and so much more than the entry level homes the Met built.

At the foot of the hill, by the sponsored mini-roundabout, the Yeading Brook crosses Rayners Lane. It's about the only place you can stop and (almost) imagine how the countryside might have looked a century back. Harrow Council maintain a pleasant linear park along the riverside, then ruin the image somewhat by planting signs at each entrance warning you to make sure you know where the exits are in an emergency. They're also withdrawing all the dog mess bins across the borough to save money, a poster said so, so best mind your step in the borough's parks in future. Meanwhile the lane rises up the hill beyond, past former front gardens paved over for storing cars, though many still with their original low walls and hedges. Rayners Lane eventually draws to a close on the edge of Pinner, the final semi-detached being numbered 664... the perfect place to stop.

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