diamond geezer

 Monday, September 15, 2014

Harrow Heritage Open Days

Having seen how much it costs to sign up for Open House this year, the London Borough of Harrow decided to go it alone. They allied instead with the Heritage Open Days project and opened up several intriguing buildings this weekend. Here are three.

Zoroastrian Centre
The Grosvenor Cinema opened on Rayners Lane in 1936. It was designed by Ernest Bromidge - the Rio in Dalston is another one of his - and couldn't look more Thirties if it tried. A grand scrolling elephant's trunk runs up the front of the fa├žade, with a wall of curved glass to either side, apparently meant to represent reels of film. Over the years the cinema became an Odeon, then a Gaumont, then an Odeon again and finally an Ace. It closed four days after its 50th anniversary and was reopened as a bar, but that didn't thrive for long and the building slowly began to decay. It was bought up in 2000 by the Zoroastrian religion as a centre for their UK operations, and they threw money into restoring the building and its decorative interior. And it all looks rather splendid again, if a peculiar mix of Middle Eastern religion and celluloid temple. You'd have enjoyed Saturday's knowledgeable tour and a look around. [7 photos]

The foyer has a bit of a wow factor, not like the entrance to your local multiplex today. A great moulded swoosh floats along the ceiling, while at the centre is a sunken area once used as the cinema's restaurant. The current decor relates more to the building's existence as a pub, rather than a cinema, plus a sprinkling of religious portraits on top. As for the main auditorium, the rake's long gone but the ribbed swirl across the roof is quite something. The Zoroastrians now use it for functions such as weddings, and an urn rests beneath the proscenium arch upon the main stage. But to reach their sacred space you have to climb the grand staircase to balcony level, and then take your shoes off and cover your head. They worship now in the old projection box, with a congregation of chairs facing a bowl of occasional fire within a gilded cage. It's not what you'd expect to find in Harrow, but this religious takeover has helped a great old building to survive.

Harrow School
It's not Eton, but Harrow is one of the top fee-paying schools in the country, especially if you measure success in terms of Number Of Prime Ministers Educated. Its origins are humble, a small school on the hill founded by local farmer John Lyons, offering a free education to boys from Harrow village but charging those from elsewhere. That fee-paying aspect snowballed when a new school building was opened in 1615, and before long most pupils were the offspring of wealthy merchants and landowners. Amazingly the 399 year-old classroom survives, no longer used for lessons but still part of the everyday fabric of the school and occasionally opened up to visitors. It's an amazing room with rough-hewn benches and wood panelled walls, into which generations of pupils have carved their names. There's Byron, there's Peel, there's Fox-Talbot, there's Sheridan, and the rest are mostly schoolboys who never made the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question.

From the symmetrical exterior the building nextdoor appears to be of a similar age but is in fact 200 years younger. This is the Old Speech Room, created for the practice of public speaking, more recently converted into a gallery for the advancement of cultural education. It's very nicely done, as you'd expect, with an emphasis on art and historical displays. When you did the Egyptians at school you probably read about them in books, whereas Harrovians have their own artefacts laid out in glass cases, quite possibly 'liberated' by old boys. You'll not get in here normally, but a small Museum of Harrow Life is open most Sunday afternoons in term time at the top of the hill down to the playing fields. With teenagers walking past in tails and rugger kit, there's something more than surreal about the road along the ridgetop, and a school both embedded into the local community and entirely distinct from it. It was good to peer inside.

West House
West House sits at the far end of Pinner Memorial Park, overlooking the culverted River Pinn. Admiral Nelson's grandson once lived here, which is the building's vague claim to fame, before the surrounding estate was handed over to Metroland developers and the house passed onto the council. It's not, to be fair, an architectural masterpiece, in part because the council decided to knock down the Tudor bit in the 1950s. The rest of the house got used for meetings and evening classes, that sort of thing, before falling into disrepair and being boarded up. The Pinner Association leapt into action and launched an appeal which sought to reopen West House as a community concern. It was all boarded up last time I was here, but reopened in 2010 and now contains a thriving cafe, that's Daisy's In The Park, and a brand new chiropractor on the top floor.

Rather more exciting are the plans to open a museum in honour of cartoonist William Heath Robinson. He lived locally in Moss Lane for several years, and the Trust have 500 original artworks of his amazing gadgets and wonderful contraptions, just nowhere to properly display them. A few are up on the walls in the small gallery beside the cafe, not that most of the tea-drinking mums have noticed, and it's here that I met the Chairman of the Trust for a chat. He told me that plans are well advanced, following two decades of fundraising and a million-plus Heritage Lottery grant. If the last hundred thousand can be found then building work can begin on the car park next spring, and a brand new Heath Robinson Museum opened in 2016. It's inspiring stuff (you can donate here), and will hopefully bring these wildly inventive works to a new generation.

The girls at St Helen's School had been duly inspired and created a Heath-Robinson-esque tea-making machine which they were demonstrating in an upstairs room. A marvellous rotating contraption with an urn on top dished up my cuppa, with just a little help from one of the girls to nudge a sugar lump down a ramp at the crucial moment. One of William's descendants was on hand nextdoor alongside a few more genuine cartoons, many of them just as witty and apposite today as they had been almost a century earlier. If you want to pop in and see the ground floor gallery and tiny shop, come along on a Wednesday or a Saturday afternoon. Or hang on a couple of years and a proper fascinating attraction should have opened in, heavens yes, Pinner.

After my visit to West House I wandered around the annual Pinner Village Show which was taking place in the park outside. I don't think I've ever seen quite so many tombolas in one place before. There were farm animals to pet, bagpipers to listen to and scouts to throw wet sponges at. And then I went to the Duckpond Market in Bridge Street Gardens, near the station, where I perused the craft stalls and treated myself to an Angus beef burger for lunch. Whatever London's listing magazines and events websites might suggest, there's a wealth of cultural life outside Zones 1 and 2 that's woefully overlooked and deserves a wider audience.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Sunday 2nd October (8.30-6.30)
Thames Barrier Closure
Annual all-day test, peaking around high tide at 3pm.

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2015 index
diamond geezer 2014 index
diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv